An investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office is thought to have confirmed that the Government of El Salvador is negotiating with the Maras criminal gangs

According to a report by the El Salvador newspaper El Faro, the Public Prosecutor, Raúl Melara, organised a team to investigate the relationship between various officials of the present and previous governments involved in discussions with the Maras. The scores of pieces of evidence that have been brought together during the investigation (including recordings, photographs and witness statements) will not now come to light due to the dismissal of Prosecutor Melara and his team.

The current dramatic fall in the number of violent murders experienced in El Salvador is said to be due to a secret pact between the Government of Nayib Bukele and the three gangs that control the country: the Mara Salvatrucha, the Barrio 18 Revolucionarios and the Barrio 18 Sureños. The evidence that points to contacts between the country’s President and the leaders of the Maras essentially consists of the improvements in living conditions in the country’s prisons and the benefits granted to the numerous gang members who have never been arrested.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office had nicknamed the case “The Cathedral”. It confiscated numerous official documents from different prison administrations and searched various prisons and the central offices of the country’s Directorate-General for Prisons (DGCP), through which it learned that the Maras imprisoned in maximum-security centres had received clandestine visits from Government officials.

During these visits by public officials, the Director of Prisons, Osiris Luna, authorised hooded individuals to enter the prisons to meet leaders of the three Maras gangs, ignoring all legal admission regulations, including the need to register their presence, and even allowing them in without needing to identify themselves at all. 

The officials of the Public Prosecutor’s Office concluded that these mysterious hooded individuals were usually officials of the current Directorate for the Reconstruction of the Social Fabric, together with leaders of the Maras still at liberty who came to receive instructions from, and transmit information to, the imprisoned gang leaders.

These investigations had revealed the list of demands the gangs had made to the Government in order to maintain their agreement in place. These take the form of a list of 20 points, including the bringing to an end of the large-scale operations of the Army and the Police against the gangs and also to the indiscriminate persecution of the members of the Maras solely because they are tattooed. They also demanded financing for small businesses and employment for their members, family visits to prisoners and changes to the maximum security regime, amongst others.

Since he came to power, President Nayib Bukele has achieved a reduction of violence to levels never previously seen in recent years. The public authorities announced on 8 August, for instance, that zero murders had been committed in the country, and attributed this success to their plan to ensure full control of the national territory. As recently as six years ago, this small Central American country registered 147 murders in the first five days of August, with five policemen among the victims. During the same period this year there have been just five murders.

The Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, with its two factions Los Sureños and Los Revolucionarios, are the major criminal groups existing in El Salvador. The authorities estimate that there are 60,000 active members of the Maras operating in 94% of the municipalities in the country, of which 18,000 are currently in prison.


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