Among the hardest-hit victims of extortions by gangs in El Salvador are private businesses, big and small.
On Tuesday, March 27 Monsignor Fabio Colindres, the head army and police chaplain responsible for mediating a ceasefire between El Salvador’s two major gangs, shared details of the gang truce with the National Association of Private Enterprise—in Spanish Asociación Nacional de la Empresa Privada (ANEP).
Reporters waited for Colindres outside of the ANEP offices ready to ask more questions and Colindres made time for them as he exited the ANEP premises in a white pickup truck.
Colindres said the gangs “are showing a sign of good will” by agreeing to reduce homicides, and are asking for opportunities in education and employment in order to survive in society.
Reporters sought clarification about the gang leaders’ specific requests under the mediated agreement. Colindres said the gangs were requesting humane prison conditions for their terminally ill members—most are HIV positive, said Colindres. They requested to spend their last days in the company of their families as Salvadoran law permits. Reporters raised concerns that a truce sounds temporary, but Colindres said he asked the gangs to agree to something more permanent than a truce.
Shortly after Colindres’ departure, the president and the executive director of ANEP, Jorge Daboub and Arnoldo Jimenez respectively, invited reporters for a brief press conference.
Daboub said the meeting with Colindres is the only informative meeting ANEP had had to date since the latest developments. He also expressed disappointment in what he characterized as an absent government administration. “What we don’t understand is how the state, which is responsible for the security of this country, still hasn’t explained its role, what’s it doing, what’s it going to do?” he said.
Daboub applauded the Church’s efforts and said ANEP is hopeful the agreement will be long-term and sustainable. He said before the truce took place and topped the nation’s agenda, ANEP was already working on programs to help rehabilitate gangsters. Daboub said he shared information about these programs with Colindres.
When a reporter asked Daboub to share how much money his members pay gangs in extortions, Daboub said he didn’t know that figure off the top of his head.
The previous night, on Monday, March 26, Colindres and the papal ambassador to El Salvador presided over a mass for the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Pandilla 18 at a prison northeast of San Salvador. Various Salvadorian media report that a spokesman for the gang asked society for forgiveness and the opportunity to change their ways.
The following day on Wednesday, March 28, Funes gave his first press conference on this gang truce. Here’s MORE on that. And HERE’S more about a U.S. Program that seems to have cut gang homicides almost in half — at least in one El Salvador town.