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Is El Salvador negotiating with criminal street gangs?

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• A version of this post ran on the author's site, The views expressed are the author's own.

A new report by El Faro suggests that El Salvador's government may have struck a deal with its two largest street gangs to reduce violence, indicating that the country may be adopting a less militaristic security strategy.

El Salvador is facing a security crisis. Despite the introduction of hardline security policies in 2003 designed to minimize gang violence, the murder rate has nearly doubled, rising from 36 in that year to 70 per 100,000 in 2011. Since President Mauricio Funes took office in 2009, he has struggled to reduce violence.

Recently, he caused a stir by giving former members of the Salvadoran military prominent positions in his security cabinet. As InSight Crime has pointed out, this has led some to conclude that the government is returning to the heavy-handed (and failed) “mano dura” (iron fist) policies of the past. However, a new investigation (link in Spanish) co-authored by El Faro’s Oscar Martinez, Carlos Martinez, Sergio Arauz, and Efren Lemus, suggests that the government may have adopted a less combative approach to dealing with the powerful street gangs.


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