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  • Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gang members remain tightly packed in formation at the Izalco Maximum Security Prison in Izalco, El Salvador. September 04, 2020.

    Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gang members remain tightly packed in formation at the Izalco Maximum Security Prison in Izalco, El Salvador. September 04, 2020. | Photo: EFE/Rodrigo Sura

Published 8 September 2020
Opinion

The inquiries center around presumed negotiations between the Salvadoran president and drug trafficking gangs.

The Attorney General's Office of El Salvador (FGR) announced Friday the start of an investigation over "possible negotiations with gangs" by the government of Nayib Bukele (in power since 2019) after an extensive journalistic investigation indicated that such dealings took place.

The investigation focuses on presumed negotiations by people in President Nayib Bukele's circle with Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), one of the leading organized drug trafficking groups in the Central American country. The presumed "agreement" is known in local political vernacular as the "truce," which has led to, at least briefly, various days without homicides in El Salvador. 

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As part of the investigation, and following the leads presented by El Faro news outlet, specialized prosecutors have searched the headquarters of the Directorate General of Prisons, as well as two locals jails in the country's western departments in search of proof demonstrating the links. 

The Attorney General's Office must ascertain, as the newspaper revealed, the truth behind the hundreds of leaked penitentiary system reports exposing numerous secret meetings between individuals in Bukele's government and gang leaders. Similarly, the entity must verify the integrity of intelligence reports explaining what was agreed upon.

The agreement would have consisted of supposed prison benefits for MS-13 prisoners in exchange for a reduction of homicides in one of the most unsafe countries in Central America, as well as increased control of certain territories deemed crucial for the legislative elections next March, through which Bukele seeks a parliamentary majority which he does not currently have. 

The MS-13 would receive for its imprisoned members a differentiated diet, removal of guards who are aggressive towards gang members, and the revocation of the decision to mix members of different drug trafficking groups in the same cells. The leaked documents reveal in further detail more about these supposed benefits. 

According to El Faro's journalistic investigations, the agreement went so far as to suggest easing the maximum security regime, repealing established laws, and giving the gang members even more benefits in the case that Bukele's party achieves victory in next February's elections.

Since news broke of the supposed negotiations, Bukele and members of his government have denied the veracity of the claims and allege that they form part of a campaign to discredit his efforts to wipe out organized crime in the country.

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