Of the many challenges which El Salvador’s Salvador Sánchez Cerén will face when he takes office on 1 June there is none so pressing as that posed by an escalation in violent crime and extortion associated with the country’s mara gangs. Homicides are on the increase and in recent weeks gangs have carried out a series of brazen attacks on police, prompting one former head of the national police (PNC) to warn that El Salvador is at risk of becoming a “failed State”. Just as there are marked differences between politicians about how to deal with the maras - more repression or more emphasis on prevention and reinsertion - two separate peace plans have emerged in the last week: one tabled by the current justice and public security minister, Ricardo Perdomo; and one by nine different churches, including the original two mediators of the March 2012 gang truce.

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