MS13 and Barrio 18 spokesmen called for an end to homicides

Purported gang leaders in El Salvador have instructed rank and file members to stop committing homicides, but it's unclear if the gangs possess the organizational cohesion to adhere to the orders. 

On March 26, individuals who said they were representatives of the MS13 and two factions of the Barrio 18 announced in a video circulated by local TV that they had issued a directive to all their members to put an end to gang violence. (See video below)

A masked speaker said the gangs were taking this action to "show that...it is not necessary to implement measures that violate our constitution."

The spokesperson was likely referring to the Salvadoran government's plan to implement emergency measures in some neighborhoods that would limit rights to public assembly and movement. Additional measures are aimed at gaining greater control over the country's prison system.

The representative closed with a warning to the government, saying that it will "not be able to put an end to the gangs" since they are "part of the Salvadoran community."

In response to the video, Eugenio Chicas, spokesman for President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, said the government would not negotiate with gangs, reported La Prensa Grafica. Chicas also said the planned implementation of the emergency measures will be carried out on schedule.

On March 26, National Civil Police Director Howard Cotto questioned the validity of the video, saying gang messages have previously been disseminated that were later found to be fake. 

InSight Crime Analysis

There are indications that the video may be credible. Raul Mijango, a principal mediator involved in El Salvador's 2012 gang truce, told the Associated Press that he "had previously received some information that [the gangs] were thinking about sending a message." In addition, the journalist who published the video has been known to publish credible gang messages in the past.

But even if the video is legitimate, there are questions about whether gang leaders have enough control over their base to significantly reduce homicides. According to the police, there were 17 homicides nationwide on Saturday and nine on Sunday, for a weekend average of 13 per day. That is roughly half of the daily average of 23 homicides in days leading up to the weekend, but more time and data is needed to determine if this represents a trend.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

The 2012 truce between the Barrio 18 and MS13 initially led to a dramatic drop in homicides. After the unraveling of the truce, however, authorities sent imprisoned gang leadership back to maximum-security facilities, providing an opportunity for mid-ranking members unhappy with the truce to take more control. The gangs now appear to be fracturing into smaller, competing cells that owe less allegiance to the central leadership. This gang atomization process is believed to be a key reason why murders in El Salvador skyrocketed to over 100 per 100,000 residents last year, the highest homicide rate of any nation in the world not at war. 

Meanwhile, the government's response to the video reaffirms its opposition to cooperating with the gangs in any fashion. The Sánchez Cerén administration has steadfastly refused to restart negotiations, and security officials have instead employed increasingly heavy-handed policing tactics to combat the gangs.  

Investigations

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

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...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

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...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

'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...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

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...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.