Mainstream progressive groups in Washington are backing a Central American gang peace process for the first time, as an El Salvador truce between Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street continues into its sixth month. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) are sponsoring an October 2 seminar to hear an eyewitness report from a transnational group formed to promote the Salvadoran process.
The events are a challenge to the dominant US policy of militarized wars on gangs and drugs, and their Central American counterpart, the so-called Mano Dura policies. Tens of thousands of Salvadoran youth, arrested in street sweeps and deportation raids, are jammed into overflowing prisons in a country that still lacks due process, human rights attorneys, and an independent judiciary. With deep US involvement and funding, the Salvadoran conflict of the late 1970s resulted in 70,000 civilian deaths and mass deportation of young people to Los Angeles and other US barrios where their first street gangs were formed in the 1980s.
Acting on their own, with significant support from church and political figures, the imprisoned gang members have declared a long-term truce and asked for social services, rehabilitation, education and jobs programs as an alternative to the deepening violence. Such changes would require deep reforms in US foreign policy, which political leaders have been reluctant to embrace for fear of being seen as “soft on gangs.” The alternative is greater havoc across Central America and Mexico.
To read the report, please see the Transnational Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador (TAGSPPES).