A ceasefire in El Salvador

There's some rare promising news out of El Salvador, which with 7 killings per 10,000 inhabitants per year, has one of the world's highest death rates due to armed violence. Ever since Msgr. Fabio Colindres, a  Catholic bishop in the capital city of San Salvador, negotiated peace between the city's most violent gangs -- the Mara Salvatrucha gang  (MS-13) and Barrio 18 -- last March, crime has been  more than cut in half, dropping from 15 deaths per day in March to only 6 deaths per day in June. According to government reports, an estimated 800 lives have been saved as a result of the peace and communities feel significantly safer.

Insisting that the drop in violence was "el proceso de paz" (the process of peace) and not simply a "tregua" (truce), Colindres met with Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza at La Esperanza Prison yesterday. Meeting with gang leaders who had been transferred there from maximum security prisons just before the peace agreement, Insulza commended the inmates:

Thanks to your courage in opening yourselves to understanding and to conversations, and for understanding that the good that comes of this will be a lesson that could be applied in other countries that suffer from criminal violence."

In seeking to explain why and how the gangs agreed to peace, former gang member and current director of Homies Unidos, an international crime-prevention group in Los Angeles, Alex Sanchez explained:

Gang members in the neighborhoods don't really want to be doing the things that they're doing, but there really - there is no resources, no outlet for these kids to address the issues that they're involved in. So, once there is a space - once something is created for them to kind of think about the things that they're doing and there is some activity around the issue as an alternative, they break down."

Over 150 days since the brokered ceasefire, Colindres reminded the community that (my translation), "one can only achieve peace believing that it is possible... It's a process that involves-and should involve-the entire nation."

Jose CABEZAS/AFP/GettyImages


China caught red handed in the South China Sea

Chinese officials were caught Friday with their pants down when the Defense Ministry was forced to admit in a brief statement that a naval frigate has run aground on the south eastern edge of the Spratly Islands-- waters the Philippine government claims exclusive sovereignty over. Though Chinese officials described the vessels as a part of a "routine patrol," the incident comes barely two weeks after the Philippine navy openly accused China of ignoring a June agreement to withdraw all ships from the Scarborough Shoal.

The "thoroughly stuck" grounded ships are an awkward reminder of growing aggression in the South China Seas. The Chinese Defense Department's terse statement Friday was released just as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to reach agreement in Phnom Penh and were forced to conclude without a customary joint statement for the first time in the organization's 45 year history.

ASEAN officials are pointing fingers at China, who they accuse of blindly denying the organization the right to mediate maritime disputes and refusing to participate in negotiations at large. In open defiance of the five-day conference, 20 Chinese shipping vessels returned to disputed waters Wednesday as state papers reminded readers that "China is considering setting up a legislative body in the newly established city." Accordingly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's seemingly innocuous proposal that "the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threat, and without use of force" was decried by the state-run China Daily as "inappropriate and ill-intentioned."

Despite the harsh words, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi concluded the conference by reminding reporters of his desire to establish "win-win" U.S.-Sino cooperation. Considering their actions this week, it might be at another state's loss.