SAN SALVADOR – President Mauricio Funes said Wednesday that a truce between El Salvador’s two largest gangs was arranged by the Catholic Church and he insisted his administration did no more than “facilitate” the efforts of the hierarchy.
“The government has not sat down to negotiate with the gangs,” he said in his first public comment on the accord between Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Mara 18, which is being credited with reducing the murder rate by more than half.
The March 9 transfer of jailed leaders of MS-13 and M-18 from maximum security prisons to less oppressive institutions spurred allegations that the Funes administration bargained with the gangs in a bid to reduce violence on the streets.
The prisoners were moved to “facilitate the logistics” for the church-sponsored process with the gangs, Funes told a press conference.
He said he first learned of the talks from Security Minister David Munguia Payes, who was in turn informed by Bishop Fabio Colindres, the prelate in contact with the jailed gang leaders.
Once the gang chiefs “reached an agreement among themselves, not with the government ... it was necessary for them to be able to communicate with their structures ... and that couldn’t be done from a maximum security center,” Funes said.
The church requested the prisoner transfers, which were effected “without breaking the law,” the president said, pointing out that the moves were approved by judges.
Homicides have fallen from around 14 a day to four or five per day since the gang truce took effect, Funes said.
The president said he plans to convene a national dialogue on how to address the problem of violence in El Salvador. EFE