LATIN AMERICA

Murder rate dips since "maras" pact truce

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes claims government paved the way for ceasefire

Mauricio Funes speaks to businessmen in Cádiz on Friday.
Mauricio Funes speaks to businessmen in Cádiz on Friday.Beatriz Velardiez (EFE)

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said he doesn't want to take credit for the eight-month old ceasefire call by the two principal criminal maras gangs in his country but affirms that his government did take measures that helped pave the way for the stay.

In an interview with EL PAÍS during his recent visit to Cádiz to attend the 24th Iberoamerican Summit, the 53-year-old leftist acknowledged that since the Salvatrucha and La 18 gangs declared a truce there have been some 1,600 fewer murders compared to the same period the prior year. "The government has not made any pacts with any gangs. In El Salvador there are five maras and the two biggest gangs - Salvatrucha and La 18 - agreed to a truce. They looked for the mediation of a military chaplain and they asked the government to create the right environment to ensure the ceasefire works and remains in place," said Funes, a former CNN correspondent who took office in 2009.

One of the measures that the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) government took was to move certain gang leaders, who are serving prison sentences, to different penitentiaries. Funes also ordered the military to take over law enforcement duties, including the warden's posts at the different prisons, because of rampant corruption.

Corruption was so common among prison officials that we had to replace them with military officers"

"Corruption was so common among prison officials that we had to replace them with military officers. But once we trained new officials, they took over the jobs of running and guarding the jails," Funes said.

The United States has committed some $200 million to help El Salvador and other Central American nations to train a new police force, he said. "Other countries such as Canada and Spain have also promised to help, but in general the resources are not enough for what this fight entails. When this regional strategy was being planned it was estimated that we needed some $5 billion - a figure that is out of reach of our nations' financial capacities."

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