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

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: 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...

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...

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...

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.

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...

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 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...

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...