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And this is bad… why?

20 June 2012

Tim’s El Salvador Blog writes:

Tuesday marked the 100th day of the truce between El Salvador’s gangs which has dramatically dropped the homicide rate in the country.


While the homicide rate has dropped from around 14 a day at the beginning of the year to approximately 5 per day under the truce, levels of other crime seem to have dropped little if at all.   There are also reports that the number of missing persons is increasing, suggesting that some of the drop in the homicide rate is simply that the bodies are not being found.   Yet even with those caveats, there seems to be little doubt that the gang truce has momentarily improved the security situation in El Salvador.   The government and all sectors of society should take every measure possible to try to make those improvements permanent and to enhance a culture of peace.

The notion of negotiating with the “cartels” here sends shivers up spines mostly in Washington, not in Sinaloa, or Juarez or Michoacan.  Considering that governments negotiate all the time with malfactors (consider all the times the U.S. government has reached a negotiated settlement with some corporation in exchange for a promise not to do whatever they did again… or to pay a fine after some egregious fraud or oil spill or whatever) it’s nonsensical to say one never negotiates with criminals.

In El Salvador, the “deal” is to create more job opportunities for marginal youths (the gangsters aren’t stupid people, and understand very well their employment base) and some prison reforms.  Whether it holds or not (and so far it has), at the very least, it frees up state resources to deal with more than the roots, and the not fruits, of anti-social behavior.

Here, the criminal gangs are just better organized, and have some legitimacy in providing social services (and employment) in under-serviced regions. At least at the lower levels of these organizations (where the “employees” are more contractors and temps than on the payroll), steering them towards less violent could be effective both in reducing the amount of violence, and reducing the role played by organized crime in the economy.

Some accommodations could go a long way… better schooling, jobs programs, alternative crops, speeding up the reforms to the judicial process… there’s plenty of “carrots” that would free up the “sticks” (guns and the Army and prisons) for those not open to persuasion.

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