On 14 March 2012, current affairs website Elfaro broke the story of a truce facilitated by the government between El Salvador’s two most powerful gangs, leading to an instant reduction in the country’s homicides.
Over one and a half years later, the truce is still intact. However, the government’s reluctance to take full responsibility for the pacification process, the lack of a comprehensive policy to address root causes of violence, and the fear that the process might strengthen gangs by giving them political power have placed numerous pitfalls in its path.
A more balanced approach
Neither the El Salvadorean public nor the international community is united in its support for negotiating with the maras.
Even so, the truce serves as an important example of a more balanced approach to gang violence. It also forms a source of insight into how local patterns of marginalisation and crime, fuelled by rapid urbanisation of the world’s population, may on occasion be managed through dialogue.
In the policy brief 'Truce on a tightrope: risks and lessons from El Salvador’s bid to end gang warfare', researcher Timo Peeters and senior researcher Ivan Briscoe of the Conflict Research Unit and Gerard Schulting of the European External Action Service analyse the following issues:
- The risks and benefits of the truce;
- The nature of international support;
- The relevance of the process as a strategy for addressing crimininal violence in other contexts.