El Salvador's Special Operations Group

Over 480 gang members or collaborators reportedly infiltrated El Salvador's armed forces and police between 2010 and 2015, but these figures are likely inflating the gangs' true level of influence within the security institutions. 

Over the past five years, at least 435 members of the armed forces were fired for being gang members or having ties to gangs, according to data by the Defense Ministry's Public Information Access Unit that was accessed by EFE. The military officials' alleged gang affiliations were not divulged, despite requests from EFE that this information be provided.

Another 39 aspiring police officers were expelled from the National Public Security Academy over the same period, of which 25 "belonged to" the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, while 13 were from the Barrio 18 gang. Nine more active police officers were also dismissed for alleged gang ties over the five years.

SEE ALSO:  MS13 News and Profile

Among the military officials dismissed from their posts were members of specialized units, including the Presidential Guard and the Special Forces Command.

2015 was by far the year with the most dismissals from the armed forces due to gang ties with 265 cases, an almost 200 percent increase from the number of cases reported in 2014, according to EFE. (See graph below)

InSight Crime Analysis

To be sure, corruption within El Salvador's security forces is a critical issue. But the notion that nearly 500 gang members have infiltrated the security forces since 2010 should be taken with a grain of salt.

As recent InSight Crime field research has found, the number of gang members in Central America's Northern Triangle region (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala) varies widely, depending on the agency doing the counting. This is due, in part, to the confusion over what does and does not constitute a gang member. 

For example, police officials may include girlfriends, lookouts, and family members as part of a gang, even though they are not core members and are not considered members by the gangs themselves. Although a collaborator and a full-fledged member have vastly different roles within the gang, they are often lumped together in statistics such as those in the Defense Ministry report. 

SEE ALSO:  El Salvador News and Profiles

These statistics can also be self-serving. If gang infiltration is seen as a serious and credible threat, it follows that the government will be more likely to allocate greater resources to the security forces in order to combat these seemingly sophisticated criminal organizations. In reality, El Salvador's street gangs are more akin to subsistence groups that are occasionally involved in high-level criminal operations.  

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...