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Is El Salvador negotiating with criminal street gangs?

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The explanation he was given for these orders was that a group of imprisoned gang bosses in a maximum security facility in Zacatecoluca had been transferred to other facilities, and the new orders were given so that they would stay there. What he heard was this: there had been a negotiation between some mara leaders and the government, and as long as the gangs kept things calm the government wouldn’t have any motivation to return them to Zacatecoluca.

The negotiations, if they indeed happened, have apparently worked. There has been a significant drop in homicides of late, with March 12 being the least violent day the country has seen in three years, with only two killings registered (link in Spanish). The average for the first few weeks of this year was 13 a day. Although police claim that this recent improvement is due to “improved coordination and intelligence,” (link in Spanish) law enforcement and intelligence sources told El Faro a different story, and even mentioned a financial incentive for the drop in homicides.

The first news of the transfer came to this newspaper on Friday, April 9. It came in the form of a few lines from a report generated by the Police Intelligence Center (CIP). It claimed that the "green," referring to the military, had moved all the "junk" of the Mara Salvatrucha. "The information is confirmed," concluded the extract, which also spoke of thousands of dollars offered to the highest-ranking gang members if homicides fell this month.

That same day, an intelligence agent claimed that, according to officials who were closely involved, this strategy was led by Colonel Simon Molina Montoya, who served as an intelligence adviser to the current Security and Justice Minister, David Munguia Payes, when the latter was minister of defense. Currently, Molina Montoya is the second-in-command of the State Intelligence Agency (OIE).

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