An article by Óscar Martínez at the New York Times raises questions about the nature of state-society relations in Central America and the tactics politicians and bureaucrats use to find a way out of the cycles of violence that grip these countries torn apart by civil war.
In short, the article details how the state negotiated with the imprisoned gang leaders of Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, the most important gangs in El Salvador. While historically a bit removed, it reminds me of Robert Holden’s history of “public violence” in Central America and his notion that Central American nations were once “armies without nations.” The absence of a strong centralized state and the presence of organized crime or states outside the state, makes governing difficult. This episode raises questions the tactics states can/should take to lower homicide rates, including negotiating with criminals. Is disregarding the rule of law justified in the face of such horrible violence?