Perspectives on the Gang Truce Part 3: Rehabilitated Gang Member Giovanni
This is the third blog post in a three part series discussing a truce that began between El Salvador´s main gangs, the MS 13 and 18th Street gangs, in March of 2012. The homicide rate in El Salvador dropped from an average of 14 a day to 5, and has continued at this level for just over six months now. This fall, the Passionist Social Service (SSPAS) and the Foundation for the Study and Application of the Law (FESPAD) hosted a forum on the opportunities and challenges the truce provides for creating a sustainable peace process. Raúl Mijango, one of the mediators of the truce, and Geovanni Morales, Coordinator of SSPAS´ Reinsertion Program, offered two perspectives on the truth. In this third entry of the series, Geovanni discusses the truce.
Geovanni, a gang member who has gone through rehabilitation processes with SSPAS and now coordinates their reinsertion program, does not share Mijango´s optimism. ¨I am neither in favor of nor against the truce. ¨ Geovanni iterated that he did not get to where he is today because of the truce, but because SSPAS opened a space for rehabilitation and insertion, a place where he could be accepted and supported.
Youth living in poor urban areas face a high level of repression and discrimination from the police, military and broader society. Gang members, especially those with tattoos, encounter an even deeper stigma and extremely limited opportunities for employment.
Geovanni asserts that because de-escalating their involvement in violent gang related activities means distancing themselves from the deep level of support, understanding, and acceptance from their fellow gang members, and because of the societal discrimination that gang members face whether or not they are active in their gangs, having a support system is essential for youth that want to transform their lives. Otherwise they face hostility from both the gang that has been their family and from society. ¨I have wanted to distance myself from all of the violence that I have lived and seen. When I started to work with re-insertion, fellow gang members started to say ¨this guy´s gone soft.¨