Pocasangres' alleged clientele included drug traffickers and money launderers

A recent report points once again to the role high-ranking El Salvador military officials play in driving that nation's illicit arms trade, helping fuel rampant gang violence and bloodshed.

Since 2010 El Salvador's National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil - PNC) and several other state institutions bought over $500,000 worth of guns, munitions, and bulletproof vests from the arms businesses of retired army major Miguel Ángel Pocasangre Escobar, reported La Prensa Gráfica

While not the Salvadoran government's largest arms provider, government entities continued to do business with Pocasangre even after he became the subject of arms trafficking allegations. 

According to La Prensa Gráfica, Pocasangre first came to the attention of authorities in 2011 when an undercover agent was able to illegally purchase a weapon from a gun store. Investigations into the case produced a protected witness for El Salvador's Attorney General's Office (Fiscalía General de la República - FGR), who alleged that between 2004 and 2005 Pocasangre and another military official, Carlos Zavaleta Morán, worked together to steal weapons from a military arms depot. These weapons were later sold with altered serial numbers.

That witness, known as "William," first testified in March 2013, but the FGR would not formally accuse Pocasange of arms trafficking until October 2015. During this interval the PNC, and even the FGR, bought weapons from Pocasange on repeated occasions, despite the testimony denouncing his activities, La Prensa Gráfica reported. 

Some of Pocasangre's alleged clientele also included convicted drug traffickers and money launderers. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Pocasangre's case is El Salvador's latest in a long line of official involvement in arms trafficking, yet it is particularly embarrassing given the same government agencies investigating him for arms trafficking continued to purchase supplies from him.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking

Paradoxically, while the Salvadoran government has pledged to stamp out rampant gang violence, members of the military have consistently been implicated in providing weapons to gangs. In October 2015, the same month the FGR brought charges against Pocasangre, authorities arrested a high-ranking officer of the Special Brigade of Military Security for allegedly selling guns to gang members. The month prior, authorities raided the house of a former colonel and found a stockpile of weapons, including sniper rifles, submachine guns, and grenades. Officials believed the stockpile was also intended to be sold to gang members.

This illicit arms trade helps fuel a conflict that has made El Salvador the bloodiest nation in the Americas.

Nonetheless, El Salvador is not the only Central American nation where an illicit arms trade has underpinned high levels of violence. Neighboring Honduras is awash in illegal firearms, and unregistered weapons have previously been estimated to be used in 80 percent of all crimes in the country.

Until officials take serious steps to rid the trade in illicit arms -- and official involvement in this trade -- the region's chronic violence levels can be expected to continue apace.

Investigations

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

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...