Crude Weapons Given Up By Gangs in El Salvador

Anonymous intelligence sources say El Salvador's street gangs held military training sessions for their most loyal and lethal members and are getting involved in international drug trafficking, a provocative allegation that comes amidst a volatile political transition and a highly contentious gang truce.

About 60 members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) -- deemed "Special Operations of the Neighborhood" -- were trained over two days last February in a number of military techniques, including how to ambush an enemy, engage in a firefight and use various weapons, newspaper El Diaro De Hoy reported.

The report, however, was cloaked in unnamed police and intelligence sources. The evidence presented amounted to a photocopy of a letter (not available online) allegedly composed and circulated by a gang leader, indicating that the gang should seek military training from former combatants in El Salvador's 12-year civil war.

According to the report, the training was ordered by the "12 Apostles," as the principal leaders of the MS13 are called, and held in a rural area of La Union, a department in the east of the country. 

The report also alleges that three MS13 leaders are working with a Mexican cartel, and that the military-style training in the MS13 is part of a concerted effort by the street gang to expand from local microtrafficking into high-level transnational drug smuggling.

The MS13's rivals, the Barrio 18 gang, the report adds, are also increasingly involved in organizing large-scale shipments of drugs. 

InSight Crime Analysis

This report should be approached with caution, not least because it does not name a single source besides the unattributed letter. High-level military and police officials are known to have links with organized crime and drug trafficking networks, and they might be releasing this information as a way to implicate the gangs, which are rightly blamed for much of El Salvador's ills but are not players in international drug trafficking.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador's Gang Truce: Strengths and Weaknesses

What's more, the report comes as El Salvador continues to sort out a highly-contested and still disputed election, which the left-wing Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren won by the slimmest of margins. It is still not known exactly what type of security strategy Sanchez Ceren will put forth, and the report might be a way for El Diario De Hoy, a staunchly conservative paper, to advocate for tougher tactics against the gangs and highlight how the previous FMLN administration's efforts to forge a truce between the MS13 and Barrio 18 could backfire on the populace.

However, if proven true, the report would lend credence to concerns the MS-13 are looking to step up into transnational organized crime, and also confirm what many critics have said about the truce: that it has served to help strengthen and organize the gangs' criminal operations. 

Investigations

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

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

In October 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). While this assertion seems unfounded, there is one case that illustrates just why the US government is worried about the future.

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

When considering the possibilities that the FARC may break apart, the Ivan Rios Bloc is a helpful case study because it is perhaps the weakest of the FARC's divisions in terms of command and control, and therefore runs the highest risk of fragmentation and criminalization.

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

While there is no doubt that the FARC have only a tenuous control over some of their more remote fronts, there is no evidence of any overt dissident faction within the movement at the moment.

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 leader Carlos Lechuga Mojica, alias "El Viejo Lin," is one of the most prominent spokesmen for El Salvador's gang truce. InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley spoke with Mojica in Cojutepeque prison in October 2012 about how the maras view the controversial peace process, which has...

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

On May 27, 1964 up to one thousand Colombian soldiers, backed by fighter planes and helicopters, launched an assault against less than fifty guerrillas in the tiny community of Marquetalia. The aim of the operation was to stamp out once and for all the communist threat in...

'Chepe Luna,' the Police and the Art of Escape

'Chepe Luna,' the Police and the Art of Escape

The United States -- which through its antinarcotics, judicial and police attaches was very familiar with the routes used for smuggling, and especially those used for people trafficking and understood that those traffickers are often one and the same -- greeted the new government of Elias Antonio...

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...

The Infiltrators: Corruption in El Salvador's Police

The Infiltrators: Corruption in El Salvador's Police

Ricardo Mauricio Menesses Orellana liked horses, and the Pasaquina rodeo was a great opportunity to enjoy a party. He was joined at the event -- which was taking place in the heart of territory controlled by El Salvador's most powerful drug transport group, the Perrones -- by the...

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

If we are to believe the Colombian government, the question is not if, but rather when, an end to 50 years of civil conflict will be reached. Yet the promise of President Juan Manuel Santos that peace can be achieved before the end of 2014 is simply...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...