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Good news from Central America: Homicides fall in Guatemala, El Salvador

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Local circumstances vary substantially, but Guatemala, too, has broadened its security strategy beyond the “iron fist” method that dominated the region's approach to violence and crime over the past decade. Homicides declined there for a third straight year, dipping nearly 9 percent in 2012 to 5,174 murders. 

“I think the examples of what is working in El Salvador can serve as a reference point for what can be accomplished in Guatemala and Honduras and how to do it,” says Mr. Marczak.

Peace pact lasts

The truce many in El Salvador believed couldn't last has evolved into a more complex peace process, according to those who guided the pact.

The truce has served as an example of how all members of society can play a role in sustaining peace.

Take Josué Alvarado, the Salvadoran founder of Maryland-based Rio Grande Foods. In El Salvador, where the company employs more than 450 people, Mr. Alvarado started recruiting ex-members of the feared MS-13 and Barrio 18 street gangs into a “reinsertion” program that includes faith-based rehabilitation through local churches, psychological treatment by the state health authority, workshop space loaned by the municipality, and vocational training provided by the company.

Other gangs in addition to the MS-13 and Barrio 18 have also pledged to end street violence. As a result of the directive, extortion – a primary source of gang income and a dangerous menace to small businesses – has edged down by 10 percent. Imprisoned gang members have largely kept the peace inside penitentiaries as well.

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