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News > Latin America

Salvadoran Government Tried To Hide Negotiations With Gangs

  • Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang.

    Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. | Photo: Twitter/ @annenviva13

Published 24 August 2021
Opinion

President Bukele negotiated with the Mara Salvatrucha to gain support for the February 2021 subnational elections.

On Monday, digital newspaper El Faro revealed that the government of President Nayib Bukele held secret negotiations with the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang and the Sureños and Revolucionarios factions of the Barrio 18 gang.

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In 2020, when the Bukele-MS13 negotiations were first unveiled, Prosecutor Raul Melara began an investigation known as the "Cathedral case." To hide what had happened, however, the right-wing President's allies began looking for mechanisms to hide the evidence.

First, Penal Centers Director Osiris Luna ordered the removal of hundreds of official documents and computers from maximum security prisons. Then, on May 1, the Salvadoran Congress, which has a Bukele-controlled majority bench, dismissed Melara and named Rodolfo Delgado as the new prosecutor.

In subsequent weeks, Delgado dismissed the director of the Special Anti-Mafia Group (GEA) and dismantled this institution, which had been collecting evidence about the secret negotiations.

In Sept. 2020, El Faro published a first investigation revealing that Bukele was negotiating with the Mara Salvatrucha to reduce homicide figures and gain support for the February 2021 subnational elections.

As is now known, those negotiations also involved the Barrio 18 gang and included demands related to improvements in prison living conditions and benefits for released gang members.

On that occasion, Bukele said that El Faro's investigation was "fake" as the reduction in homicides in the country resulted from implementing a territorial control plan that had been had been in place since 2019.

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