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Criminal youth gangs band together to end violence in El Salvador

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 27th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Criminal youth gangs run rife in El Salvador - it's estimated that at least 60,000 young people belong to gangs or "maras." These groups offer a sense of belonging to counter the lack of education and employment offered there. Gang leaders have now initiated a bold plan to end violence among the warring factions there. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Salvadoran youth gangs have accepted a proposal to declare 10 municipalities free of violence. It's seen as a highly bold move as mistrust runs rampant among the neighborhood gangs here. 

"We want to eradicate all illegal activities and have a better relationship with the community," Carlos Mojica, gang leader of one of the two factions of the Barrio 18 gang tells IPS.

The two men behind this initiative are former guerrilla fighter Raúl Mijango and Catholic bishop Fabio Colindres. The proposal was accepted earlier this month by the leaders of the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), the two main gangs in El Salvador. Smaller groups like Máquina, Mao Mao and Mirada Locos have since picked up the torch.

El Salvador's population is set at 6.2 million people. Unemployment stands at 10.7 percent among young people between the ages of 16 and 29, 6.1 percentage points higher than the rate among economically active people over 30.

Maras in local organized crime has grown to the point that the U.S. Treasury Department officially designated the MS-13 a transnational criminal organization.

Under the new initiative, the members of the maras promised not to commit crimes in 10 violence-ridden municipalities. They also intend to hand their guns over to the authorities to prove that their intentions are sincere.

Once crime rates go down in the 10 districts in question, the idea would be to expand the plan to other cities, and eventually, across the country.

The names of the 10 municipalities have not yet been revealed to the government or the media, apparently to avoid putting media pressure on the local authorities in those districts.

"We want to gradually put an end to some things, but it can't be done on a large scale, because others parts of society aren't ready to do it yet," Borromeo Henríquez one of the heads of the Mara Salvatrucha gang says.

Under the proposal, the gangs would work with non-governmental organizations, churches, the center-left government of Mauricio Funes, and local mayors, to create the conditions necessary for the social reinsertion of gang members.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

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