Salvadoran Government Rejects Potential Peace

On January 16, El Salvador celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the peace accords that ended the decade-long civil war between the government and Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas. Despite the celebration, the Salvadoran government, now controlled by the FMLN, continues to stall the peace with the maras, or street gangs.

El Salvador’s largest mara, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), proposed an open dialogue with the government in late December and showed an unprecedented willingness to demobilize. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, however, has firmly responded that ‘‘there will be no dialogue with criminals.’’

Mara Salvatrucha’s proposal calls for an open negotiating table that would include every political party, the government, human rights institutions and leaders of the three major street gangs: 18 Sureños, 18 Revolucionarios and MS13. On January 15, the Catholic archbishop of San Salvador announced that the Church would be prepared to act as a mediator.

In their message, MS-13 hopes for the government to consider the possibility of reintegration of active gang members who wish to exit the gang. The leaders also expressed willingness to dissolve the gang in its entirety.

The recent developments are a first for MS-13. In fact, it was precisely their unwillingness to discuss potential disbandment that stalled and eventually led to the failure of the 2012 peace talks.

Despite the strides toward peace, the government sternly rejected the proposal. Communications Minister Eugenio Chicas expressed their official position in January: ‘‘No dialogue, no conversations, no possibility of any type of agreement that would open that route.’’ Chicas, a long-time critic of the maras, accused them of opportunism in light of the Chapultepec peace accords’ anniversary that once brought peace to the divided nation.

In 2016 alone, confrontations between the three main gangs and the police force caused over 500 deaths. El Salvador currently has one of the highest per-capita homicide rates in the world, according to the World Health Organization. January 11 marked the first 24 hours the country has gone without a murder in two years. However, the future remains unclear, as a government unwilling to compromise ignores the potential for lasting peace.