The allegations that the Salvadoran government has made an agreement with the gangs have been on the rise in recent days, including US sanctions on executive officers for the “existence of negotiations” with these groups, which, according to experts, maintain the “control” of territories in the country.
The Government of Nayib Bukele has attributed to its Territorial Control plan, which in its early stages concentrated more than 7,000 members of the Police and Army in 22 locations to combat gangs, the significant drop in homicides in recent years and even the authorities point out that 2021 will close as the least violent year.
But, for experts such as Verónica Reyna, from the humanitarian organization Servicio Social Pasionista (SPAS), which serves victims of violence, the gangs “continue to control and dominate community dynamics”, given that “the State has not recovered the municipalities, it has not recovered the territories (…) and that is evident just by going to the communities. “
POINTS OF A COVENANT
Weeks after taking office in June 2019, Bukele launched its Plan Control Territorial, for which funding of over $ 100 million and which initially thousands gathered police and military in a dozen localities approved to wrest control of the territories from the gangs and cut off their income, which comes mainly from extorting merchants.
Under this plan, the cumulative number of homicides in El Salvador, which was considered the most violent country in the world, was 1,074 between January and November, 12.4% less than the 1,226 computed in 2020, according to data from the Police, Prosecutor’s Office and Institute of Legal Medicine. This means an average of 3.2 murders per day.
However, in early November an escalation of homicides claimed the lives of more than 40 people at the hands of gang members in three days. A situation that President Bukele attributed to “dark forces” and the authorities arrested gang members for their alleged participation.
According to security researcher Jeannette Aguilar, one of the hypotheses about this escalation is that “it could have been deliberate” so that the gangs could “make adjustments that for reasons” of a “pact they had postponed” and to position the effectiveness of the police and military before the public opinion.
Remarks about a pact also come from the United States.
In early December, the government of Democrat Joe Biden announced Treasury Department sanctions against two Salvadoran officials for corruption during the president’s “secret negotiations” with the “Mara Salvatrucha” ( MS-13): the directors of Penal Centers, Osiris Luna, and Reconstruction of the Social Fabric, Carlos Marroquín.
Bukele has described as “absurd” the accusation of the Biden government of supposed benefits given to the gangs and points out that his security plan has allowed him to have the “safest months in the history of El Salvador”, he also denied that police or soldiers have received the order “not to fight” crime.
“It is not easy to face this cancer that grew for 30 years, it is not easy to face an irregular army of more than 70,000 members who have Army weapons, Army grenades provided by previous administrations, ” he said.
According to Reyna, “these structures (the gangs) have decided to stop committing as many crimes” as before, but “that does not mean that they are no longer committing crimes.”
And for Aguilar, these “abrupt fluctuations” in violent acts “are expected in a context where the absence of a policy prevails.”
Rina Montti, director of Human Rights monitoring for the non-governmental organization Cristosal, which handles cases of forced displacement, believes that it can be “thought that territorial control is still in the hands of the gangs.”
And he points out that, as a result of the alleged agreement denounced, as his organization has documented based on testimonies, there may be cases of division of territories between gangs and the Police.
“Some families say it like this, as there is an agreement between them in what way it is going to be operating in a particular locality. I cannot say that this is going to be a trend at the national level, but there are some cases that do reveal it”, he stressed.
He clarified that, in any case, the behavior of forced displacement in 2021 is “similar” to that registered before the pandemic and recalled that gang members are the ones who most expel Salvadorans from their homes.
The gangs, a phenomenon considered a legacy of the civil war (1980-1992) and that was strengthened with the deportation of gang members from the United States, have resisted different security plans of mass incarceration, direct confrontation, and dialogue of the last governments.