As Western Hemisphere leaders butted heads this weekend at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, one country had a bittersweet reason to celebrate. For the first day in almost three years, no one was murdered in El Salvador.
That might sound like good news for a 6-million person country that saw a shocking 18 murders a day in 2012. However, some have pointed to a disconcerting reason for the relative calm.
El Salvador's public security and justice minister David Munguia cited effective police work as the reason behind the country's recent drop in killings. According to an explosive report by El Salvador's digital newspaper El Faro, however, President Mauricio Funes's administration cut a deal with two notorious gangs -- the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 -- offering government concessions in exchange for reduced homicides in the country.
Both the gangs and the government denied the report's findings. Yet, as the Daily Beast points out, "Salvadorans noted that the dramatic drop in crime immediately followed the transfer in early March of dozens of top gangsters from a maximum-security prison to a common prison, where inmates are allowed conjugal visits, meetings with the press, and other perks."
President Funes claimed that the truce resulted from a Catholic Church initiative, maintaining that his administration was not directly involved. However, Funes "did admit that his government responded to the news of a truce by transferring 30 gang leaders," according to Al Jazeera.
El Salvador claims one of the highest homicide rates in the world, as well as the highest rate of violent fatalities. 20 years after the end of the country's civil war, in which 75,000 people were killed, violence in El Salvador reached record levels earlier this year. The U.S. State Department notes that more than 70 violent deaths are reported for every 100,000 inhabitants.
Whether or not the government was directly involved in the agreement, the prison transfer speaks to the devastating effect of gang violence on El Salvador. As Canada's The Globe and Mail put it last week, "That the government of President Mauricio Funes would be forced to agree to such a truce underscores the destabilizing impact the drug trade has had on [El Salvador]."
According to Reuters, Saturday marked the first murder-free day since President Funes took office in June 2009.