El Salvador – which had enjoyed a brief lull of peace from gang violence – is on the verge of war.
El Savador’s two biggest and most ruthless gangs – Mara Salvatruchas (MS-18) and Barrio 18 – have been reigning, fighting and killing in El Salvador since the late 1980s. In fact, due to rampant gang rivalry and violence, the small central-Ameriacan country has suffered one of the highest crime rates in the world. However, the bloodshed stopped once Mara Salvatruchas and Barrio 18 called for a long-awaited truce in March of last year. Against all expectations the cease fire has held and murder rate in El Salvador has plummeted.
It was in El Salvador’s jails that the peace agreement was negotiated between imprisoned gang members with the help of the Catholic church and the center-left government of president Mauricio Funes . Since the truce came to fruition over a year ago, there have been 14,000 to 15,000 fewer murders.
As the Minister of Justice, David Mungia said to BBC, “Without the truce, there is not solution to the violence.”
But now, the church-brokered truce between to the gangs is on the verge of being dismantled – putting in motion the wheels for potential gang war.
The treaty between MS-13 and Barrio 18 fell into uncertainty when The Supreme Court of El Salvador declared the appointment of David Mungia Payes as the country’s Security Minister “illegal” Payes was one of the central figures in orchestrating the truce between the 60,000 members of the two gangs. The Court also decided to replace police chief Francisco Salinas. The court said both jobs must be held by civilians. The two men are army generals.
Gang leaders gave a news conference in jail criticizing the court’s decision. President Mauricio Funes says he disagrees with the ruling but will accept it.
The decision has put the lives of Salvadoreans under risk as it threatens the future of the non-aggression pact agreed last year, the gang leaders said. On May 20, representatives from MS-13 and the 18 Street confirmed in a joint press conference that they will “carry on with the ceasefire, provided it was backed by the security authorities.” Since the press conference, photos have surfaced of rival gang members handing over weapons and cellphones from pirons as El Savador risks falling back into the crippling violence it suffered for years.
The tension which stemmed from the recent court ruling has revealed that the truce between the two gang factions is shaky. Will the treaty hold after a successful year?
Outside of prison walls, the rest of El Salvador is holding its breath.