New Yorker: Four months ago, President Mauricio Funes negotiated a truce between his country’s two largest street gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Mara Calle 18, bringing an end to El Salvador’s position as the most violent country in the world not at war. In a country where violence is headed by male gang members, I was interested in women’s roles and opinions. Margarita Julian, Salvadoran consul in New York, told me that “the cease-fire will be ephemeral without a strong investment in education, health and employment.” Her colleague Beatriz de Rodriguez said, “A government cannot negotiate with criminals. It’s not fair to democracy.”
Maras are a direct result of the civil war that the guerrilla rebels of the FMLN, now the ruling party, fought against the militia of the old government, supported by the United States, from 1980 to 1992. These gangs were born in Los Angeles, where thousands of expatriated Salvadoran children, many of them orphans, grew up marginalized and unsupported, and then created their own order of violence once repatriated. Salvadoran women fought in the ranks of FMLN’s guerrillas, and today they’re often involved in the war of the maras: by becoming members they gain protection, a family, and a place in society, but can’t escape without endangering themselves and their children. Thousands of Salvadoran women are serving prison sentences, and they ask to be part of this truce, as uncertain as it is.