The murder rate in the Central American country of El Salvador has dropped thanks in part to a gang truce. Two gangs – the Mara Salvatrucha and Calle 18 – helped make the country the world’s most murderous last year behind its neighbor Honduras, which is also ravaged because of violent gangs.
However, that changed after the two gangs declared a first time ever truce that law enforcement says has lowered the murder rate by 50% in only four months. Salvatrucha was formed in the U.S. in the 1980s, by immigrants from Central America. Many of the immigrants were refugees from a civil war that had gripped the country. The gangs or “maras” as they are referred to in Spanish grew to international proportions when members of both started to be deported to their homeland.
Over the last 20 years, the gangs have grown tremendously and in El Salvador, it is estimated there are over 64,000 members of different gangs. Branches of the two biggest gangs operate throughout Central America, and can be found in 42 or more of the states in the U.S.
The gangs survive by dealing drugs, running prostitution rings and committing armed robberies. Many of the members of the gangs cover their bodies and faces with tattoos to prove they intend to be members for life. Turf wars can be gruesome with gangs often times targeting family members of their rivals.
While in cells side by side one another in prison, the gang leaders decided it was time to broker a truce. The two leaders with 15 of their toughest lieutenants met with a former congressman and Catholic bishop to find a truce.
In March, they announced a complete truce and an end to violence. The murder rate quickly fell from an average of 12 murders per day to just five. On April 14, the country recorded its first full 24-hour period in over three years without one murder.