Conversations centered on Central America’s smallest country inevitably lead to discussing gangs and violence. An infectious synonym, perhaps, the legacy that burdens us after twelve years of civil war, and many more invisible wars—the political, social, class-centered wars.
Recently, Salvadoran digital newspaper El Faro wrote a piece on the “second” creation and implementation of the Peace Accords. Initially signed in 1992, the Peace Accords are– in my humble Salvadoran opinion– aspirin for someone suffering from hemorrhagic dengue (read: a big mistake). Let’s reflect on this for a second: I am not averse to peace. I am not cynically stating that engaging in critical dialogue with all parties involved cannot shed positive results, but I am stating that we should be analyzing who sat at the table last time, and who will sit at the table this time.
El Faro’s piece brings up the guest no one invited but is fervently requesting to be included in the VIP list: gangs. Reading this piece, I felt a spark of change within me. My entire academic research focuses on exploring youth radicalization, and gang recruitment in order to implement effective gang prevention strategies that will protect, teach, our youths to critically assess what the gangs are offering them versus their own potential. But I digress.
The gangs requesting to attend this round table is a monumental moment in our Salvadoran history, one we should not blink away from, lest we want to become the shrimp the current washed away (don’t these idioms sound extremely ridiculous in English? But heed my words, brethren, for they speak truth).
Let the gangs speak. Allow them a voice that often gets dehumanized alongside their tattooed bodies by sensationalized news, biased governments, and damaging classism.
Are the gangs free of guilt? Should we pity them? A complicated question to which I give the unsatisfying answer of “no”. Gangs have cut wounds so deep into our nation it will take true democracy and critical pedagogy to recover, and even then we will bear nasty scars. Gangs control our streets, a whisper of paranoia every time we leave our homes. They control our youth with promises of identity, protection, and a future that our governmentS (All of them. Absolutely all of them) have failed to deliver.
Silence does not make a problem disappear. If anything, it allows it to simmer, to reach boiling point (have we not reached that point already? The murder rates flow like the lava in the dormant volcanoes that surround us).
Let the gangs speak. Give them the stage to present themselves to us (all of us, because for far too long our policies have been decided through dirtied windows. We demand- we need- transparency).
And what if we don’t like what they’ve got to say? Then, the first step has been given and dialogue can commence.
Frantz Fanon once stated that violence can only be challenged , overpowered, with violence. I love Fanon because he unchains the colonized mentality in me, but I fear what his reality would make to our bruised nation. So, let them speak. For too long we have attempted to duct tape their mouths, ignorant to the fact that their mouths are not their most dangerous weapon, but the guns and knives they wield.
What are our political parties afraid of by bringing gangs onto the negotiating table? Fraternizing with the enemy? (calm down, Ron Weasley). Forgive my scoffing but, if we are afraid of having criminals at that table we’ll end up with a very empty table.
To the United Nations, our benevolent mediator, let me say this: you cannot evaluate a nation’s security by excluding a crucial instigator of said security. You cannot uphold human rights if you do not consider the way gangs are both the violated and the violating of said rights.
Let’s not repeat the first Peace Accords. Let’s not prescribe an aspirin for an illness that requires surgery.