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US accuses El Salvador of negotiating truce with gang leaders

The U.S. imposed sanctions on two government officials who led the meetings

December 9, 2021 12:35pm

Updated: December 9, 2021 5:40pm

The U.S. Treasury accused El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele on Wednesday of secretly negotiating a truce with gang leaders, including MS-13 and Barrio 18.

One of Bukele’s most famous successes as president has been decreasing the murder rate in the Central American country. The U.S. Treasury is accusing Bukele’s government of achieving this by reaching a deal with the gangs.  

The announcement came as the U.S. imposed financial sanctions on two El Salvador government officials for negotiating with gang leaders. The two officials are Osiris Luna Meza, chief of the penal system and vice-minister of justice and public security, and Carlos Amílcar Marroquín Chica, chairman of the Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit.

Bukele’s administration “provided financial incentives to Salvadoran gangs MS-13 and 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18) to ensure that incidents of gang violence and the number of confirmed homicides remained low,” said the Treasury statement. “Over the course of these negotiations with Luna and Marroquín, gang leadership also agreed to provide political support to the Nuevas Ideas political party in upcoming elections.”

Bukele’s political party, Nuevas Ideas, won legislative elections earlier this year and took control of Congress.

The U.S. Treasury said their investigation into the relations between government officials and gang leaders revealed the negotiations that decreased the murder rate.

The two officials “led, facilitated and organized a number of secret meetings involving incarcerated gang leaders, in which known gang members were allowed to enter the prison facilities and meet with senior gang leadership,” said the U.S. Treasury.

In exchange, the incarcerated gang leaders received special treatment in the prisons, financial benefits, sex workers and cellphones

Bukele’s office has not commented on the accusations. The president, however, tweeted on the issue. “Cell phones and prostitutes in prisons? Money to gangs? When did that happen? Did they check the dates? How can they put such an obvious lie without anyone questioning them? There are videos yes, but of their friends doing that. Not us. They don't even pretend anymore.”