Monday, October 7, 2013

Making Peace with Gangs in El Salvador

Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at
October 7, 2013

                The lead story in the October 6 Sunday New York Times “Week in Review” section, at , supports an approach I have proposed at home and in Trinidad for transforming gang violence.  Oscar Martinez, a reporter for the online newspaper, recounts how dramatically the gang homicide rate between two rival gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, declined from March 2012 until July 2013, during a period when leaders agreed to declare the country of El Salvador a “sanctuary city.”  Martinez discovered that the Salvadoran minister of justice and security had negotiated the truce in exchange for moving gang members including jailed leaders from a maximum to a minimum security prison, where they were allowed to have and use cell phones.  Then, when the Salvadoran president had denied any such deal, and the Salvadoran supreme court had removed the minister, a general, on grounds that ministers had to be civilian, and the deal was called off, the gangs resumed the war, and homicides are rising again.  This had occurred where the voting public are overwhelmingly retributive toward the gangs.  Martinez concludes:
Everything seems to suggest that President Funes will leave office without ever admitting that he has saved an astounding number of lives, probably because the numbers that really matter to him are those of a different sort—the kind that reflect his popularity in the polls.
                How sad.   Events in El Salvador reflect the global human struggle between two conceptions of how to transform violence among ourselves: between warring against violators and making peace among them.  Making peace requires granting legitimacy to warring parties, granting them power to negotiate competing interests rather than punishing them as offenders.  By definition, meeting violence with violence is louder, and in power politics stronger, than meeting violence with empathy and compassion.  No matter the label you give the paradigm of trying to impose social order on others as by naming it “democracy,” to quote the title of an article/book chapter I wrote long ago, “empathy works, obedience doesn’t” ( ).  When will we ever learn?  Love and peace--hal

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