Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gang truce in Honduras - first thoughts

Yesterday, in a prison in San Pedro Sula, representatives of the two major gangs in Honduras announced that they were seeking a truce between them. One of the leaders promised “Zero violence,” but another leader stated, “"We're willing to work to lower the violence, but we need everyone to be on board, because we're not willing to be the only ones."  

This is good news, if it holds. A lot will depend not only on the actions of the two gangs but on the willingness of the wider society and the Honduran government to make major changes. More on this in a later blog entry.

San Pedro Sula is the city with the highest percentage of murders in the world and Honduras is one of the world’s most violent countries.

Where I am in western Honduras, we don’t see much gang activity, but the gangs are active in the major cities and on the north coast. To finance their wars they demand “war taxes” – protection money – from businesses, as well as bus and taxi drivers.

Central to this process was Monseñor Romulo Emiliani, the auxiliary bishop of San Pedro Sula. Adam Blackwell, a Canadian from the Organization of American States who has been involved in the gang truce in El Salvador, was also instrumental to arriving at an agreement.

Monseñor Emiliani, a Claretian from Panama, has been a major force in the church’s Prison Ministry throughout the country.

Monseñor Romulo Emiliani, August 2012

Last March, during a bloody prison riot in San Pedro Sula, he negotiated an end to the crisis. He assured the prisoners that the police would not try to end in by a violent attack. Though about 17 were killed in the riot, more deaths were prevented.

Last August at a meeting in Santa Rosa of the prison ministry in northern and western Honduras, he spoke of his trepidation when he entered the prison three times; in one sense, he did not know if he would come out alive.

I was impressed by his courage and his willingness to take risks. It became clear that he loves the prisoners, though he is realistic about the situation.

As he said in an interview in El Heraldo, “On the human level I’m not very optimistic, but seeing everything from the vantage point of faith, there is where one can maintain hope, and where God can intervene.”

There was a truce between the two gangs in 2005, but it only lasted two months.

I have a little more hope now, especially because Monseñor Emiliani is involved, a person of faith, committed to prisoners, who has gained their confidence by his courageous initiatives on their behalf.

In this situation we can pressure authorities in Honduras and in the US to respond to this initiative of the gangs and accompany our actions with prayer.

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