“We are worse than when we were at war, when ones heads out you never know if you are going to return home.”
It is another typical hot and rather humid day in the seacoast city of Sonsonate, the paradoxical scenery of a public school next a prison dismaying, while few students walk by the prison entrance without any regard of the penitentiary and the dangers this could fetch. An elderly man enjoys a snow cone to cool of, while inside the jailhouse which was built in the 50’s, leaders of the two major gangs Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS) which operate in the city prepared to welcome the press in order to speak about the truce and announcing that Sosonate, a city that had been at he top on the list with the most homicides per year, will now be a “sanctuary city” free on gang related violence.
-“Sonsonate will be the most peaceful place in El Salvador” -Roberto Aquino Mayor of Sonsonate
A school boy holds a paper banner with the slogan “SANTA TECLA FREE OF VIOLENCE” at the public event, in the community of El Pino a Mara Salvatrucha (MS) strong hold, where Santa Tecla was declared a “sanctuary city” free of gang related violence.
El Salvador was labeled as on of the most violent countries in the western hemisphere. This stigma was relinquished in March of last year, when the unexpected news of a truce between the two major gangs (or Maras as they are known in El Salvador) Mara Salvatrucha (MS) and Barrio 18 was announced. This peace accord came from the dialogue started by Archbishop Fabio Colindres of the Military Archdiocese together with former guerrilla commander Raul Mijango acting as mediators between the government and gang leaders whom were serving long jail sentences in a maximum security prison known as Zacatras. The two gangs or “MARAS” had agreed to lessen their crime activity, especially homicides which have been one of the foremost accomplishments of the truce, reducing them by 60%, having only 6 homicides per day compare to 14 before the pact. Later in the process La Maquina, Mao-Mao and La Mirada Locos three gangs originated in the country decided to be part of this process. Although the truce has give a break from the bloodshed on the streets, there’s still consternation about the treaty because gangs continue be involved in rapes, dealing narcotics, thefts, human trafficking and extortions. Most of the murders happening during the truce period are believed to be gang related, some due to non-payment of extortions, random killings of students and others for not complying with the gang leaders orders about the truce. Another factor is that since March the cases of missing persons have increased and more mass graves have been discovered with bodies of murder victims that were caused by gangs. Salvadoran society has been living for almost two decades under the daily fear of being murdered, extorted or robed by gangs, This has had deep psychological impact on the people and it will take time to overcome this trauma.
As the anniversary of the truce between gangs approaches Salvadorans still feel unease about this process due to the lack of transparency. Not being clear on what kind of agreements were pact between the government and gangs. The truce continues and the country is mourning less but the future of it continues to be ambiguous.
Archbishop Fabio Colindres (L) speaks with Hugo Ernesto Márquez Montoya, alias “El Trece” (R) member of the Mara Salvatrucha-MS gang after a religious service held at the Ciudad Barrios prison which only houses members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) gang.