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De-securitising and Re-securitising Gang Policies: The Funes Government and Gangs in El Salvador

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2014


This article analyses the gang policies of the first years of the Funes administration in El Salvador, from June 2009 until July 2012. Using securitisation theory, it explains why the administration returned to an emphasis on extraordinary measures, most of them repressive, to deal with gangs. It argues that these measures were the product of an ongoing and dynamic process in which the government was but one of the players in a complex field constituted by numerous actors. The return to repressive measures as well as the support and facilitation of a ‘gang truce’ were not the result of a rational design or a predetermined agenda, but should be seen as a series of moves in a political conjuncture, in which the Salvadorean government needed to communicate to different audiences messages of being in control.

Spanish abstract

Este artículo analiza las políticas hacia las pandillas de los primeros años de la administración de Funes en El Salvador, de junio de 2009 a julio de 2012. Utilizando la teoría de la securización, el material explica por qué la administración volvió a tomar a medidas más represivas para enfrentar a las pandillas. Señala que tal situación fue producto de un proceso dinámico en marcha en el que el gobierno era sólo un jugador más dentro de un campo complejo constituido por varios actores. El regreso a las medidas represivas así como el apoyo y facilitación de una ‘tregua pandillera’ no fueron el resultado de un diseño racional o de una agenda predeterminada, sino que debe de ser visto como una serie de movimientos en una coyuntura política, en donde el gobierno salvadoreño necesitaba comunicar a diferentes audiencias que se encontraba en control.

Portuguese abstract

Este artigo analisa as políticas voltadas à questão das gangues durante os primeiros anos da administração Funes em El Salvador, de junho de 2009 até julho de 2012. Utilizando a teoria da securitização, o artigo explica a razão do retorno às medidas repressivas por parte desta administração para lidar com as gangues. Argumenta-se que estas medidas sejam o produto de um processo dinâmico e que ainda está em curso, no qual o governo represente apenas um dos atores em uma área complexa, constituída por diversos atores. O retorno às medidas repressivas, além do apoio e facilitação de ‘trégua entre gangues’, não foi resultado de uma agenda racionalmente elaborada e predeterminada, mas deve ser visto como uma série de ações em uma conjuntura política na qual o governo salvadorenho necessitava passar a mensagem a diferentes audiências de que controlava a situação.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 For the case of El Salvador, see, for instance, Cóbar, Edgardo Amaya, ‘Militarización de la seguridad pública en El Salvador, 1992–2012’, Urvio: Revista Latinoamericana de Seguridad Ciudadana, 12 (2012), pp. 7182Google Scholar. For a discussion of security policies in Central America, see Oliver Jütersonke, Robert Muggah and Dennis Rodgers, ‘Gangs, Urban Violence, and Security Interventions in Central America’, Security Dialogue, 40: 4–5 (2009), pp. 373–97.

2 Gutiérrez Rivera, ‘Enclaves y territorios: estrategias territoriales del Estado y de las pandillas en Honduras’, unpubl PhD diss., Freie Universität Berlin, 2009, available at; Bruneau, Tomas, Dammart, Lucía and Skinner, Elizabeth (eds.), Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011)Google Scholar. All internet references were last checked in May 2014.

3 Savenije, Wim, Maras y barras: pandillas y violencia juvenil en los barrios marginales de Centroamérica (San Salvador: FLACSO, 2009)Google Scholar; Savenije, Wim and van der Borgh, Chris, ‘Gang Violence in Central America: Comparing Anti-gang Approaches and Policies’, The Broker, 13 (2009), pp. 20–3Google Scholar.

4 Waller, Irvin, Less Law, More Order: The Truth About Reducing Crime (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006)Google Scholar.

5 Alex Renderos, ‘Salvadoran Leader Plans to Draft At-Risk Youths’, Los Angeles Times, 11 June 2011, available at,0,3637942.story.

6 Chevigny, Paul, ‘The Populism of Fear’, Punishment & Society, 5: 1 (2003), pp. 7796CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 See the next section for a definition of securitisation.

8 This article is the product of several research periods. A round of interviews was conducted in Feb. 2005 with high-level policy-makers, NGO officials, representatives of gangs, journalists and academics about the impact of ARENA's zero-tolerance policies. In April 2011, a similar round of interviews took place focusing on the policies of the Funes administration. In March and June 2013, additional interviews about the truce were held. Furthermore, we reviewed the reporting on the gang phenomenon posted on El Faro, an online newspaper ( We also discussed several of our ideas in a workshop held in San Salvador (Jan. 2009) with experts on the gang phenomenon from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil and the United States (the workshop was financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research).

9 Colebatch, Hal K., Policy (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), pp. 61–2Google Scholar.

10 Quoted in Colebatch, Policy, p. 39.

11 Ibid. Framing can be defined as ‘the selective exploitation of data, arguments, and historical analogies’: see Boin, Arjen, Hart, Paul 't, Stern, Eric and Sundelius, Bengt, The Politics of Crisis Management: Public Leadership under Pressure (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 82Google Scholar.

12 Ibid., p. 2.

13 Ibid., p. 9.

14 Ibid., p. 25.

15 Ibid., pp. 12–13.

16 Emmers, Ralph, ‘Securitization’, in Collins, Allan (ed.), Contemporary Security Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 109–26Google Scholar. Securitisation is defined in different ways. Balzacq, whose framework we use, mentions the existence of a ‘customized policy’ to deal with a threat. For his full definition of securitisation, see Balzacq, Thierry (ed.), Securitization Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011), p. 3Google Scholar.

17 See Buzan, Barry, Wæver, Ole and de Wilde, Jaap, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998)Google Scholar; this is a key reference in studies on securitisation. For a concise introduction into this theory, see Emmers, ‘Securitization’; for an analysis of the theoretical underpinnings of Wæver's work, see Taureck, Rita, ‘Securitisation Theory and Securitisation Studies’, Journal of International Relations and Development, 9 (2006), pp. 5361CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For an overview of the evolution of the field of securitisation theory, see Balzacq (ed.), Securitization Theory; and C.A.S.E. Collective, ‘Critical Approaches to Security in Europe: A Networked Manifesto’, Security Dialogue, 37 (2006), pp. 443–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Emmers, ‘Securitization’, p. 110.

19 Ibid., p. 111.

20 Ibid.

21 Collins argues that an issue can still be a security issue when solutions are sought for it in the (regular) political process: see Collins, Alan, ‘Securitization, Frankenstein's Monster and Malaysian Education’, Pacific Review, 18: 4 (2005), p. 572CrossRefGoogle Scholar. An issue is securitised when emergency measures are adopted; de-securitisation thus means ‘moving a security issue back into the political process’. Ibid., p. 573.

22 Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, Security, p. 41. According to Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde, securitising actors can variously be governments, political or business elites, or pressure groups. These are normally not the referent object (that needs to be secured): see ibid., p. 40.

23 For instance, Sarah Leonard and Christian Kaunert distinguish between different dimensions or streams of the policy process and identify the different audiences in each of these: see Leonard, Sarah and Kaunert, Christian, ‘Reconceptualising the Audience in Securitization Theory’, in Balzacq, (ed.), Securitization Theory, pp. 5776Google Scholar. This is in line with Colebatch's emphasis of different arenas of policy-making (vertical and horizontal): see Colebatch, Policy, pp. 37–40.

24 Balzacq (ed.), Securitization Theory, pp. 7–9.

25 Ibid., p. 12.

26 Ibid., pp. 12–13.

27 Ibid., p. 12.

28 As we shall show later on, the exact causes of the high levels of violence (homicides) and criminality are not really known, which leaves space for interpretation.

29 Ibid., p. 14.

30 Our research was limited to tracing the adoption of emergency measures in their political context. We do not make a full analysis of the securitisations of gangs in El Salvador. For an overview of the levels and constituents of a full analysis, see ibid., pp. 35–8.

31 For a brief introduction on the topic, see Savenije and van der Borgh, ‘Gang violence in Central America’. See also Cruz, José Miguel (ed.), Street Gangs in Central America (San Salvador: UCA Editores, 2007)Google Scholar; and ‘Central American Maras: From Youth Street Gangs to Transnational Protection Rackets’, Global Crime, 11: 4 (2010), pp. 379–98; and Savenije, Wim, ‘Las pandillas trasnacionales o “maras”: violencia urbana en Centroamérica’, Foro Internacional, 47: 2 (2007), pp. 637–59Google Scholar.

32 Cruz, ‘Central American Maras’, pp. 379–98; Savenije, Maras y barras, p. 50.

33 Dudley, Steven, Drug Trafficking Organisations in Central America: Transportistas, Mexican Cartels and Maras, Working Paper Series on US–Mexico Security Collaboration (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2010)Google Scholar; Seelke, Clare Ribando, Anti-Gang Efforts in Central America: Moving Beyond Mano Dura? (Miami, FL: Centre for Hemispheric Policy, University of Miami, 2007)Google Scholar.

34 Formal data show that the proportion of gang members arrested for murder in the period between 2003 and 2006 varies between 7.1 per cent and 24.9 per cent; the proportion of gang members arrested for extortion increased from 0 per cent in 2003 to 14.6 per cent in 2006 (source: Unidad de Operaciones y Estadísticas, PNC). A recent report by the PNC estimates that 50 per cent of homicides in El Salvador over the last five years were committed by gang members (information provided to authors by PNC in 2011).

35 See, for instance, Moodie, Ellen, El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace: Crime, Uncertainty, and the Transition to Democracy (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Popkin, Margaret, Peace without Justice: Obstacles to Building the Rule of Law in El Salvador (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

36 Based on a series of public opinion surveys (1986–96). Cruz, José Miguel and González, Luis Armando, ‘Magnitud de la violencia en El Salvador’, ECA, 588 (1997), pp. 953–66Google Scholar.

37 The 1999 survey put delinquency, violence and gangs together as one topic, while the 2003 survey separated the three issues. In 2006, violence wasn't mentioned. For the sake of clarity, we take these topics together to emphasise the continuing preoccupation of the Salvadorean population with topics of (in)security.

38 In the preceding decade or so there had already been discussion in El Salvador about how to deal with the gang issue. Zilberg, Elena, Space of Detention: The Making of a Transnational Gang Crisis between Los Angeles and San Salvador (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), p. 46CrossRefGoogle Scholar, argues that the influence of the United States was substantial in the introduction of these policies, referring to ‘the successful transnationalization of the zero-tolerance gang-abatement strategies of the United States’.

39 See, for instance, ‘Guerra total contra maras’, El Diario de Hoy, 24 July 2003, pp. 1–8; ‘Guerra a las maras’, La Prensa Gráfica, 24 July 2003, pp. 1–3.

40 The anti-gang law (‘Ley Antimaras’) was declared unconstitutional on 1 April 2004, the same day that a new anti-gang law was approved in the national assembly. This second law had a validity period of six months.

41 For an analysis, see Sonja Wolf, The Politics of Gang Control: NGO Advocacy in Post-war El Salvador, unpubl. PhD diss., University of Wales, 2008; and ‘Public Security Challenges for El Salvador's First Leftist Government’, North American Congress on Latin America, 7 July 2010, available at

42 It should be noted that it remains unclear exactly what the importance of the Mano Dura plan has been. See González, Álvaro Artiga, ‘El Salvador: maremoto electoral en 2004’, Nueva Sociedad, 192 (2004), pp. 1222Google Scholar, for an analysis of various other factors that might explain the victory of the ARENA candidate Tony Saca.

43 Hume, Mo, The Politics of Violence: Gender, Conflict and Community in El Salvador (West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 142Google Scholar.

44 Instituto de Opinión Pública, Encuesta de preferencias políticas para las elecciones presidenciales de 2004 (San Salvador: Universidad Centroamericana ‘José Simeón Cañas’, 2003)Google Scholar.

45 President Flores came into open conflict with the president of the Supreme Court about the issue of the implementation of the anti-gang law: see ‘Enfrentados presidente Flores y Corte Suprema’, La Prensa Gráfica, 21 Oct. 2003, p. 2.

46 Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD) and Centro de Estudios Penales de El Salvador (CEPES), Informe anual sobre justicia penal juvenil El Salvador 2004 (San Salvador: FESPAD, 2004)Google Scholar.

47 Aguilar, Jeannette, ‘Los resultados contraproducentes de las políticas antipandillas’, Estudios Centroamericanos, 62: 708 (2007), pp. 877–90Google Scholar.

48 ‘Saca expone Super Mano Dura’, El Diario de Hoy, 5 Feb. 2004, p. 16. Saca won the elections on 30 August 2004.

49 Wolf, The Politics of Gang Control, p. 90.

50 Savenije, Maras y barras, p. 96.

51 Cruz, José Miguel and Carranza, Marlon, ‘Pandillas y políticas públicas: el caso de El Salvador’, in Moro, Javier (ed.), Juventudes, violencia y exclusión: desafíos para las políticas públicas (Guatemala City: Magna Terra Editores, 2006)Google Scholar; see also International Human Rights Clinic, No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador (Cambridge, MA: Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School, 2007), pp. 42–4Google Scholar.

52 Authors’ interviews held with different government officials involved in the design of these plans in February 2005.

53 Elena Zilberg, Space of Detention, p. 7.

54 Rodgers, Dennis, ‘Slum Wars of the 21st Century: Gangs, Mano Dura and the New Urban Geography of Conflict in Central America’, Development and Change, 40: 5 (2009), p. 950CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

55 Ibid.

56 Pearce, Jenny, ‘Perverse State Formation and Securitized Democracy in Latin America’, Democratization, 17: 2 (2010), p. 289CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

57 Ibid., p. 286.

58 Organised crime and drug trafficking are serious and (particularly in the latter case) growing problems. The information about these trends is still limited. There are indications that in El Salvador, (cliques within) gangs are increasingly involved in the trafficking and distribution of drugs: see Ribando Seelke, Anti-Gang Efforts in Central America; and Dudley, Drug Trafficking Organisations in Central America. The president also pointed to the infiltration of organised crime into government agencies: see Carlos Dada, ‘Ejecutivo presenta plan de seguridad’, El Faro, 6 Feb. 2010, available at

59 Carlos Martínez, ‘Presentan politica de seguridad pública: “Para los que dicen que no tenemos un plan, ¡aquí está la prueba!”’, El Faro, 19 Feb. 2010, available at

60 There were several government agencies involved in prevention programmes, among them the CNSP, the Dirección General de Prevención Social de la Violencia y Cultura de Paz (General Directorate for Social Prevention of Violence and for a Culture of Peace, Pre-Paz), the Fondo de Inversión Social para el Desarrollo Local (Social Investment Fund for Local Development, FISDL), the Subsecretaría de Desarrollo Territorial y Descentralización (Under-Secretariat for Territorial Development and Decentralisation) and the Secretaría de la Juventud (Secretariat for Youth). These agencies, together with the Ministries of Education and Health-Care and the director of the police, are part of the Gabinete Nacional de Prevención de la Violencia (National Cabinet for the Prevention of Violence, GNPV). The Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social (Salvadorean Foundation for Economic and Social Development, FUSADES) mentions duplication of activities between several agencies: see FUSADES, ‘Segundo año de gobierno del Presidente Funes: apreciación general’ (San Salvador: FUSADES, 2011), available at

61 Interview with FESPAD, April 2011.

62 The words ‘dialogue’ and ‘negotiation’ were keenly avoided by government officials in order to avoid giving the impression that negotiations with these gangs were taking place or that there was the possibility of some kind of ‘peace accords’.

63 The announcement was published in Diario CoLatino, 22 Oct. 2009.

64 It remains unclear, however, whether there ever really was a truce. Successive numbers of intentional homicides in El Salvador between Nov. 2009 and April 2010 do not show a temporary decline that might be expected if the gangs were actually responsible for a high proportion of murders. The homicide figures were: Nov. 2009, 333; Dec. 2009, 361; Jan. 2010, 402; Feb. 2010, 339; March 2010, 377; April 2010, 340 (information provided by the PNC in 2011).

65 Information given in personal interviews with the authors.

66 The homicide rate increased from 51.9 per 100,000 habitants in 2008 to 70.9 per 100,000 in 2009: see United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Study on Homicide: Trends, Contexts, Data, 2011 (Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011)Google Scholar. A novel aspect of this measure was that soldiers were ‘allowed to carry out searches and arrest people, and to set up checkpoints on the roads – something that hadn't been seen since the 1980–1992 civil war’. See Edgardo Ayala, ‘El Salvador: More Troops on the Streets to Fight Crime’, IPS, 13 Nov. 2009, available at

67 The new Constitution of 1992 also stipulated the new roles of the armed forces, including their ‘exceptional’ roles in periods of insecurity: see FUSADES, ‘El orden constitucional y la fuerza armada’, Posición Institucional, no. 22 (San Salvador: FUSADES, 2009), p. 2.

68 President Funes justified the measure because ‘the ordinary measures for maintaining the internal peace, tranquillity and public security are exhausted’: La Prensa Gráfica, 6 Nov. 2006. According to the Salvadorean Constitution, the deployment of the army is an exceptional measure that the president can take for a limited period of time. The national assembly needs to be informed about this and can call off these measures at any moment; see FUSADES, ‘El orden constitucional y la fuerza armada’.

69 Some NGO staff called this ‘the syndrome of my government’ (‘el síndrome de mi gobierno’). This connotes that because these NGOs supported the new left-leaning government, they decided to be loyal to it and not publicly criticise its policies.

70 Interview with senior staff member at the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, April 2011.

71 The soldiers would assist the PNC for 180 days. However, at the end of this period the measure was extended.

72 Carlos Martinez, ‘Militares seguirán un año más en tareas de seguridad pública: aplausos convencen a Funes de seguir con el ejército en las calles’, El Faro, 7 May 2010, available at

73 Amaya Cóbar, ‘Militarización de la seguridad pública en El Salvador’, p. 77.

74 For the interviews with Douglas Moreno, see Carlos Martínez and Jimena Aguilar, ‘Director de Centros Penales: “Nunca imaginé a profesores o personal de clínica involucrado”’, El Faro, 23 May 2010, available at; Jimena Aguilar and Carlos Martínez, ‘Propone crear ocho penales nuevos: “¿Y esta es la solución? ¡No! La solución nadie la quiere discutir”’, El Faro, 23 May 2010, available at

75 For an example of the tensions between the military and gangs in prison, see Daniel Valencia Caravantes, ‘La batalla por Ciudad Barrios’, El Faro, 10 April 2011, available at

76 ‘Comunicado de la mara MS13 y la pandilla 18’, mimeo.

77 This attack was part of a brutal escalatory cycle in this neighbourhood. For an interpretation of the background of the incident, see the notes of anthropologist Juan José Martínez d'Aubuisson in his book Ver, oír, callar: en las profundidades de una pandilla salvadoreña (San Salvador: AURA Ediciones, 2013).

78 Gabriel Labrador Aragón and Lourdes Quintanilla, ‘Catorce muertos en doble ataque en Mejicanos’, La Prensa Gráfica, 21 June 2010, available at

79 See El Faro (‘Pandillas’ section, June–July 2010) for the diverse measures that were proposed by political parties and others. The feeling prevailed that a line had to be drawn, while others stated that the country was at war, which called for extraordinary measures: see, for instance, Ricardo Ribera, ‘Desde la academia: declaracion de guerra’, El Faro, 5 July 2010, available at

80 An indication of the success of this move is the public support offered by the Catholic Church in El Salvador. Archbishop Escobar Alas congratulated President Funes on the law, calling it a ‘good response’: see Infolatam, ‘El Salvador: la iglesia apoya la ley antimaras propuesta por el Gobierno al Legislativo’, Información y análisis de América Latina, 12 July 2010, available at

81 Despite the similarities in focus, there were some important differences from the previous anti-gang legislation. Previously, suspected gang members were prosecuted because of their appearance (clothing, tattoos, etc.) and not for the actions they had committed (this is why the law was eventually declared unconstitutional). The new law broadened the punishment for membership of illegal organisations, but the proof of these affiliations had to comply with legal standards.

82 Edith Portillo, ‘Asamblea aprueba ley que prohíbe las pandillas’, El Faro, 1 Sep. 2010, available at; ‘Diputados acuerdan aprobar ley que criminalice pandillas’, El Faro, 31 Aug. 2010, available at; Tania Membreño and Liliana Fuentes, ‘Ley de proscripción de pandillas entra en vigor desde hoy’, La Prensa Gráfica, 19 Sep. 2010, available at For the position of the ombudsman on the draft law see the advice of the Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos of 10 Aug. 2010, available at Also see ‘Oscar Luna: ley de proscripción de pandillas no resolverá el problema’, Diario CoLatino, 21 Sep. 2010, available at

83 Redacción ContraPunto, ‘Caos en el sector transporte por amenazas’, Contrapunto, 7 Sep. 2010, available at

84 ‘Comunicado de la mara MS13 y la pandilla 18’, mimeo.

85 The ‘developmentalist’ and consensual discourse employed in the statement is interesting. The statement, for instance, says that the gangs want a compromise with society, so as to build a better country.

86 See Luis Laínez and Tania Membreño, ‘Gobierno promete enfrentar pandillas’, La Prensa Gráfica, 10 Sep. 2010, available at

87 See Redacción El Mundo, ‘Gobierno no negociará con pandillas’, El Mundo, 8 Sep. 2010, available at

88 See Eric Lemus, ‘El Salvador semiparalizado por reclamo de pandillas’, BBC Mundo, 9 Sep. 2010, available at

89 See Carlos Martínez, ‘“¿Qué viene ahora? ¿La lucha con el procurador?”’, El Faro, 1 Nov. 2010, available at

90 ‘Seguridad empeora en este gestión’, Diario de Hoy, 10 Nov. 2011.

91 See, for instance, Ricardo Vaquerano, Carlos Martínez, Gabriel Labrador and Efren Lemus, ‘Presidencia informa que Manuel Melgar dejó Ministerio de Seguridad’, El Faro, 8 Nov. 2011, available at Two months later the director of the PNC, Comisionado Carlos Ascencio Girón, was dismissed.

92 ‘Munguía Payés declara la “Guerra al crimen”’, Diario CoLatino, 29 Nov. 2011, pp. 1, 4.

93 Until then, General Francisco Salinas was the vice-minister of defence. He retired from the army the morning before he was appointed director of the PNC.

94 ‘Grupo de Intervención Antipandillas’, La Prensa Gráfica, 8 Dec. 2011.

95 ‘Subdirección Antipandillas’, El Diario de Hoy, 12 March 2012.

96 In reality, however, the number of gang members arrested dropped in the first months of 2012. See ‘Policía con promedio diario de 148 arrestos’, La Prensa Gráfica, 31 March 2012.

97 In the weeks before the transfer, the number of homicides committed was in a range of 11 to 17 per day. When the authorities started to move the gang leaders from high-security prisons to low-security ones (8 March 2012), the numbers fell dramatically: to nine on 9 March, ten on 10 March, six on 11 March, two on 12 March and three on 13 March, stabilising at around five or six a day (information provided to the authors by the PNC in 2012).

98 The Forensic Institute confirms a 39 per cent decrease in homicides in 2012, while the Ministry of Justice and Public Security cites a 41 per cent reduction in comparison with 2011 and a 60 per cent decrease if the figure is counted from March, when the truce came into effect. Suchit Chávez, ‘Medicina Legal: 2,641 homicidios durante 2012’, La Prensa Gráfica, 8 Jan. 2012.

99 José Luis Sanz y Carlos Martínez, ‘El trabajo de monseñor Colindres y Raúl Mijango era una pieza de mi estrategia’, El Faro, 14 May 2012, available at

100 Monsignor Fabio Colindres is the Salvadorean army bishop and Raúl Mijango is an ex-guerrillero and former member of parliament (diputado) for the FMLN. Both are close to the minister of justice and public security, Munguía Payés. Raúl Mijango had already been an adviser to Munguía Payés when he was still minister of defence.

101 ‘Entre los empresarios de este país hay gente a la que le pones a un sacerdote delante, o a la Iglesia, y es como si se les desconectara una parte del cerebro: dejan de hacer preguntas’, quoted in Carlos Martínez and José Luis Sanz, ‘La nueva verdad sobre la tregua entre pandillas’, El Faro, 11 Sep. 2012, available at

102 The list of requests included topics such as suspending police operations in the territories where the gangs operate, repealing the law proscribing gangs, eliminating the legal status of protected witness, confining the military to their barracks, and pardons for senior prisoners or those who are terminally ill. At the time of writing, these topics were mostly rejected and not taken up publicly in policy discussions.

103 For example, as mentioned above, when the two main gangs asked in September 2010 for a dialogue with the government, the general response was extremely negative. Munguía Payés, then minister of defence, declared that negotiating with gangs was a no-go, stating that ‘Un Gobierno democrático como el nuestro elegido legítimamente no puede negociar con organizaciones criminales’ (Redacción El Mundo, ‘Gobierno no negociará con pandillas’, El Mundo, 8 Sep. 2010, available at

104 Martínez and Sanz, ‘La nueva verdad sobre la tregua entre pandillas’. This source also describes how Minister Munguía Payés invited a group of approximately 25 journalists to explain (off the record) the removal of the prisoners. This shows again how important this ‘audience’ is to the government.

105 Efren Lemus, ‘Funes se vuelve a desmarcar de la tregua entre pandillas’, El Faro, 17 Sep. 2012, available at

106 The gang members in the neighbourhoods still very much respected the old generation of leaders and, once back in contact with the rank and file, those leaders were able to exert their control again. The situation in the Salvadorean prisons is extremely harsh for the inmates: see, for instance, ‘Prisons in Latin America: A Journey into Hell’, The Economist, 22 Sep. 2012, available at From inside the common Salvadorean low-security prisons it is also relatively easy to communicate with the outside world and to maintain contact with the streets.

107 Leaders from the gangs were extensively interviewed on television: for instance, TV12 aired two interviews with Carlos Mojica (alias El Viejo Lin, Barrio 18) and with Arístides Umanzor (alias El Sirra, Mara Salvatrucha); interviews were also published in newspapers (see for instance the interview with the Mara Salvatrucha in four parts published by El Faro in October 2012, available at

108 See, for the first communiqué, ‘Raúl Mijango hace público comunicado conjunto de la Mara Salvatrucha y el Barrio 18’, El Faro, 23 March 2012, available at

109 See, for instance, David Marroquín, ‘Matan a dos supuestos cabecillas de mara’, El Diario de Hoy, 22 Aug. 2012.

110 Balzacq (ed.), Securitization Theory, p. 12.

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