Salvadoran drug trafficker Juan Colorado.

Authorities in El Salvador said that nine people arrested on drug charges this week were working for the organization of an imprisoned leader of a transportation group known as the Perrones, highlighting how the group remains a force in El Salvador's underworld despite the arrests and sentencing of key leaders.

Since 2009, authorities said, the nine had been smuggling cocaine moving through El Salvador and to destinations on the East coast of the US, including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Boston, according to local prosecutors quoted on ElSalvador.com.

The prosecutors added that the group was "connected to the structure of Juan Maria Medrano." Medrano, better known by his alias "Juan Colorado," is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence after being convicted on drug charges last year.

Colorado was one of the founding members of the Perrones, El Salvador’s most infamous transportista or smuggling group. He was arrested in 2008 alongside other Perrones leaders, including Reynerio Flores Lazo, Daniel Quezada, Wilfredo Antonio Reyes Martinez, and Carlos Armando Umanzor. Dozens of police and judicial officials were also connected to this network, which operates mostly from the eastern part of this small country.   

InSight Crime Analysis

Since suffering the loss of key figures such as Colorado, the Perrones have successfully regrouped and reasserted their influence in El Salvador. As InSight Crime has reported, the group has re-established smuggling networks and infrastructure, and it has cemented alliances with international organizations such as Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. It may also be seeking to expand its operations into other parts of the region, even while it continues to have a strong presence in neighboring countries such as Honduras.

Many of the cases against the Perrones leadership have now unraveled, leaving them free or facing minor charges. Of those that are still serving lengthy sentences, intelligence reports suggest Reynerio Flores continues to coordinate trafficking activities.

Before his arrest, Juan Colorado was responsible for establishing and maintaining the East coast smuggling routes used by the recently arrested group and was the first of the Perrones smugglers to move drugs directly to the US. The fact that these routes are still active and that investigators still consider Colorado as the head of a trafficking structure suggests he may also still be active despite his imprisonment.