Leaders of Honduras’ two largest and most dangerous gangs announced a truce today during press conferences held in a San Pedro Sula prison. “We ask society and authorities to forgive us for the damage we have done,” said the head of the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, of the agreement forged with the 18th Street gang. Eight months in the making, the truce was mediated by Roman Catholic Bishop Romulo Emiliano, with the backing of the Organization of American States’ Secretary for Multidimensional Security Adam Blackwell. The Honduran president voiced his support on Monday. The deal gives a heavy nod to a gang truce negotiated last year in neighboring El Salvador. That truce led to a hefty reduction in homicides, an accomplishment that Honduras—with a murder rate 10 times the global average—hopes to emulate.
Nowhere is Honduras’ high homicide rate more apparent than in San Pedro Sula, where the truce was announced. While the country’s murder rate stands at 85.5 per 100,000, that figure soars to 173 in Honduras’ second-largest city. The gang leaders pledged “zero violence” as a first step in the truce. In exchange, they asked for government backing, rehabilitation, and jobs. In a country where 59 percent of people live below the poverty line, insecurity contributes to economic woes that prevent jobs and foster gang involvement. The World Bank estimates that violent crime costs 10 percent of the Honduran GDP—around $900 million a year. It’s no wonder that Honduras looked next door for a model; a gang truce in neighboring El Salvador led to a 45 percent decrease from January to April 2013 when compared to the same period last year.
Some express doubt that Honduras can achieve the same level of success, noting that Honduran gangs have a more fractured leadership than in El Salvador. An Associated Press investigative report earlier this month pointed to another player that could pose a challenge: The Honduran police have been accused of engaging in extrajudicial killings.
Still, the truce provides hope to drawdown violence. “Even a little success with this truce would be good,” writes Bloggings by Boz. “A 10 percent decline in murders would be hundreds of fewer deaths, particularly in San Pedro Sula. For that reason, we shouldn't hold this truce to the standard of El Salvador and we should be happy for any sustainable decline in violence that it can bring.”
But can Honduras learn from El Salvador’s attempts to bring peace? Recent changes in the latter country could put the truce on shaky ground. On May 17, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the appointment of military men to public security posts violated the Salvadoran Constitution. The decision led to the departure of Security Minister David Munguía Payés—a principal architect of the truce between El Salvador's Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs. As InSight Crime reported in an analysis, the future of El Salvador’s truce depends in part on whom President Mauricio Funes selects to permanently replace Munguía. The article noted that “the gangs lamented the court's decision and said they would maintain the truce so long as the new security authorities renewed the commitments pledged by the exiting general.” Moreover, “In a defiant tone, they added that the judges' decision ‘puts the security of Salvadorans at risk.’”