SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – Two Salvadorans who mediated in a gang truce in their country that cut the homicide rate by at least 50 percent met Monday with gang leaders in Honduras, where they will help do the same.
El Salvador's chief army and police chaplain, Monsignor Fabio Colindres, and former guerrilla fighter Raul Mijango talked inside the San Pedro Sula prison with leaders of Honduras' 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha gangs. Those gangs also dominate criminal activity in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Members of the Organization of American States are also participating in the negotiations to secure a truce with the government in Honduras, which is often called the most dangerous country in the world.
"The Salvadorans mediators have come expressly to support this effort, to convey their experiences and offer support, taking into account the context of violence in Honduras is different from El Salvador," said Roman Catholic Bishop Romulo Emiliani of San Pedro Sula, who began mediating a gang truce eight months ago.
According to reports from public security authorities, the 15-month-old truce in El Salvador has been accompanied by a 52 percent decrease in homicides.
Colindres said that the point of Monday's meeting was "to convey that the Salvadoran experience is valid for the region and that it's urgent to find a regional effort (to stop gang violence) that also includes Guatemala."
A leader of the 18th Street gang said it has already done its part, telling members in the areas the gang controls to stop the violence and crime. The gang leader, who agreed to speak only if not quoted by name because he feared possible reprisals, estimated crime has already dropped 80 percent in those areas.
A member of the rival Mara Salvatrucha gang who would only identify himself as "Marco" said violence in the areas that gang controls has dropped 45 percent.
It was not possible to verify their claims.
Marco said the gang's first gesture of reconciliation with society was "the delivery of 60 beds made with our own hands to a nursing home in San Pedro Sula."
"We want this example of working in carpentry to be repeated on the streets so that through job opportunities we can bring peace to our youth," he added.
Gang members asked the OAS for help in getting a peace agreement with the Honduran government. They also asked the organization for help in securing resources that would allow them to leave their criminal activities and engage in legitimate jobs.