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Is El Salvador negotiating with criminal street gangs?

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Last week, Salvadoran prison officials transferred around 30 imprisoned leaders (link in Spanish) of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 from maximum security institutions to prisons with more relaxed rules on visitors. Following that, cells of both gangs around the country were told to keep their violent activities to a minimum, according to El Faro's sources. El Faro spoke to one gang leader, who confirmed the story. As the authors write:

“El Muchacho” received a call on his cell phone on Friday morning. The call came from the prison in Ciudad Barrios and the voice on the telephone explained the new policies of the MS-13: jailed leaders had decided that the gang needed to “calm down,” which in the group’s slang is the same as saying that killings and new extortion attempts would be prohibited until further notice.

El Muchacho is an individual with whom we had scheduled an interview in a San Salvador shopping mall. He is a boss, or “palabrero,” of a local MS-13 “clica” (band). Orders that come from prison are non-negotiable, so he called up his crew and relayed the message. “We’re on vacation,” he joked.

The clica led by this 30-something had to suspend some plans immediately. According to El Muchacho, the orders caused them to put off two hits they had planned for that very same day. The only reason the gangster obeys orders like this is his utter fear of the Mara Salvatrucha’s punishment system. If a subordinate disobeys, he will be punished with anything from a severe beating to death. If El Muchaho defied his orders, both he and his boss in the Ciudad Barrios prison would be punished.

By way of comparison, El Muchacho gave the following example: “If your boss tells you ‘find this report,’ you have to go rummaging for it, because your job depends on it. It’s the same. An order’s an order.”

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