This policy note provides a brief background on gangs in El Salvador and the attempts of Salvadoran authorities to negotiate with them to reduce violence in the streets.

It analyzes a March 2022 gang-led homicide spree with a particular focus on the government’s response, arguing how it has harmed citizens’ lives, turning fundamental human rights into bargaining chips between licit and illicit actors.

Highly punitive responses to contain gang violence have been the norm in El Salvador. In addition, for the past decade, secret negotiations between state actors and imprisoned gang leaders have been conducted, but outcomes have yielded similar or worse results. Authorities must seek alternative avenues for peace, such as promoting restorative justice and community resilience, minimizing the risk of prison riots and providing reinsertion programmes. Mediation from the international community is also needed in order to prevent the situation from spinning out of control.