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Multimillion dollar plan to curb violence
Edgardo Ayala
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An initiative is targeted towards crime prevention and will be implemented in the most violent towns.

The government of El Salvador is beginning to seek financing to cover the costs of an ambitious US$2 billion plan to reduce the high delinquency rate in the country, especially that caused by gangs, a principal headache for authorities.

But obtaining financing to put this plan into action is a big challenge for this country of 6.2 million inhabitants since in the past similar projects to combat crime, like that of 2007, was not implemented due to lack of funds.
“We have tried similar efforts, but the problem is that the money was not obtained,” said José María Tojeira, former rector of the Central American University José Simeón Cañas (UCA) and member of the National Council of Security and Coexistence (CNSCC).

On January 15, the CNSCC submitted to President Salvador Sánchez Cerén a report with 124 priority measures that the government should initiate to reduce crime in the country. The CNSCC was started in September 2014 by Sánchez Cerén’s government, run by the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), to tackle the problem of insecurity considered by the citizenry as the country’s biggest problem, according to various opinion polls.

Sánchez Cerén is a former guerrilla commander who assumed the presidency on June 1, 2014, initiating his party, the FMLN, a second five-year term in power.

The CNSCC is formed by government officials, representatives of civil society and international organizations. The technical coordination is under the guidance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The failure of the “hard line”
For more than two decades since the country saw the end of the bloody civil war (1980-1992) that left more than 70,000 deaths, the Salvadorans have suffered the unrelenting strife of unbridled crime, similar to that of its neighbors, Guatemala and Honduras.

This criminality was not halted by the hard line, or “mano dura”, policies imposed on the country by the post-war, right-wing governments.

El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the world. The country ended 2014 with 3,912 assassinations, a 57% increase from the previous year, reaching the level of 63 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the UN Global Study on Homicide 2013, published in April, 2014. In Latin America, the average rate is 29 per 100,000.

The estimated cost of implementing the security plan is $2 billion during a period of five years, an average of $400 million annually. This estimated amount equals 1.7% of the Gross Domestic Product of the country, and it is anticipated that 74% of the plan’s resources will be dedicated to crime prevention.

Financing is expected to come from the General Budget of the Nation, international loans in the process of being approved by Congress, with private contributions and international cooperation.

Roberto Valent, the resident representative of UNDP in El Salvador, stated to the local press that the contribution from international cooperation could be approximately $70 million annually, while the government confirmed that it is in negotiations with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for a loan of $200 million to launch the program.

Among the principal measures, the government is expected to intervene in the fifty most violent towns with educational, health and employment projects. The project planners intend to invest $500 million to create 250,000 jobs for youth. Another $250 million will be allocated to build sports, cultural and recreational facilities necessary to remove young people from the cycle of violence.

Also, concrete proposals have been developed to approve new laws to reduce crime, such as prohibiting telephone companies from keeping accounts active on cell phones that have been stolen since most of the extortion crimes — one of the most common crimes in the country — are done with stolen cell phones.

New truce among gangs
“I continue hoping for a strategy that gives better results than those we got with the truce process between gangs. If it isn’t that, then is like the mountain that roared and gave birth a little mouse [despite high expectations created, a meager result would be obtained],” told Latinamerica Press Raúl Mijango, who mediated a truce between the two principal gangs of the country, MS-13 and Barrio 18 in March 2012.

This pact, which lasted a little more than a year, dramatically reduced homicides in El Salvador from an average of 70 per 100,000 inhabitants to 40 per 100,000 inhabitants.

But the agreement between these two criminal groups to not attack each other was harshly criticized by a good part of society that witnesses on a daily basis how the gangs assassinate and extort citizens.

It is calculated that some 60,000 young people are members of Salvadoran gangs, also known as “maras,” whose origin can be traced back to Central American immigrants who settled in the United States fleeing the armed conflicts that devastated the region in the 1980s. Upon being deported back to their countries of origin, some brought with them the gang culture that they developed in the United States.

This Jan. 17, leaders of the biggest gangs circulated an announcement that again they were agreeing to not commit acts of aggression, agreeing to a truce, and although homicides decreased substantially in the days after the announcement, in the following weeks crimes increased once again.

 “We are promoting on the national level a unilateral gesture of good will that seeks to contribute to the reduction of violence,” the agreement stated which was signed by MS-13 and Barrio 18 as well as by the Mao-Mao, La Máquina and La Mirada Locos gangs.

On the other hand, the government and the CNSCC have closed ranks in their position of not negotiating with gangs, with the argument that gangs are criminal organizations that should be prosecuted by the state.

“It is positive that they do not commit crimes [under the truce], but legal prosecution should continue,” told to Latinamerica Press the prosecuting attorney for the Defense of Human Rights, David Morales. “We cannot be trusting agreements made by criminal organizations among themselves.”

However, at the end of January, a slightly more open position on this matter emerged after various members of the CNSCC pointed out that although negotiations with gangs were not an option, dialogue was. Shortly after, representatives of the Lutheran Church met with imprisoned gang leaders taking the first steps to some kind of rapprochement, confirmed the local press.
—Latinamerica Press.


Dionisio Arístedes Umanzor (alias El Sirra) and Carlos Tiberio Ramírez (alias Snyder), ringleaders of the Mara Salvatrucha, serving jail sentences for homicide in the prison of Ciudad Barrio
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