Once the most powerful boss of the Perrones “transportista” syndicate, Jose Natividad Luna Pereira, alias “Chepe Luna,” was murdered in Honduras in June 2014. Before his death, Luna built a considerable business empire in both the legal and criminal worlds and helped the Perrones become one of the most important criminal organizations in the Central American nation.
Chepe Luna, was a founding member of The Perrones, one of the first smuggling networks in El Salvador. The network was fostered in an environment of corruption and protection from the authorities, including the National Civil Police (PNC) and political parties. Chepe Luna held both Salvadoran and Honduran citizenship and was the owner of Transportes Ulua, a successful transport company headquarters in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Like most of his compatriots at the top of the group, Luna got his start in the Salvadoran underworld bringing otherwise licit goods from across the Honduran border. Luna was known for moving dairy goods, which initially earned the Perrones the moniker “Cartel de Los Quesos.”
The logistical skills mastered while moving cheese came in handy when Luna and his colleagues decided to branch out into trafficking a more profitable good: cocaine. The Perrones have links with South American traffickers, who bring their merchandise up the Pacific coast from Colombia and Ecuador, usually in go-fast boats or semi-submersibles. From there, the drugs are offloaded onto Salvadoran vessels, from which they are brought to shore and moved northward to Guatemala along the Perrones’ networks.
Chepe quickly established himself as the most powerful drug smuggler in eastern El Salvador. He was able to exercise territorial control along critical junctures in the drug smuggling routes and established relationships with specific officials within the police and judicial system
Luna was long in the cross-hairs of national and international drug enforcement organizations, from the DEA and Interpol to El Salvador’s National Police. Since 2004, he had an arrest warrant from the Southern District Court in the US hanging over his head, on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. He was arrested in El Salvador in 2002, after an altercation with police. At the time, the US singled him out as one of the foremost human traffickers in the country, yet Salvadoran authorities did not charge him with the crime, and he was later released.
He was arrested in August 2012 in Honduras, where he was believed to be running the Perrones. However, he was released a day after his capture, with varied reports suggesting a lack of evidence, or that the arrest warrant had expired.
In the end, it was not the police, but hitmen that caught up with Luna. He was killed in front of his transport company in Tegucigalpa by a group of at least eight gunmen. Afterward, the police managed to capture four of the men and killed two others. While Luna’s murder has not yet been linked to any group, Luna’s family says the killers were linked to gangs operating in Honduras.
A source in El Salvador told Insight Crime that Luna’s murder may have been the result of competition related to his legitimate transportation business rather than his role in the smuggling business. According to the source, Luna may have been murdered by business rivals in an attempt to gain control of transportation routes and territory.
Chepe Luna was accused of drug trafficking, human trafficking, and money laundering. The group he led has also been linked to other criminal activities including kidnapping, extortion, and prostitution in several countries throughout Central America.
The Perrones are present in a large portion of El Salvador’s territory and are divided into two factions. The eastern group operates in cities such as San Miguel, Usulutan and La Union; While the Westerners group are concentrated around the City of Santa Ana. The organization’s activities extend from Panama to Guatemala.
The group is adept at moving goods across El Salvador and along the country’s border with Honduras and Guatemala, to eventually be moved on to Mexico or the United States. Due to underdevelopment within El Salvador, there is limited air infrastructure, and drug transportation is carried out using trucks.
Allies and Enemies
The Perrones transport drugs and other goods for both Mexican and Colombian criminal groups. It is believed that currently, the group has ties to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.
There have been reports of a rivalry between the Perrones and the street gangs Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha for the control of trafficking route. However, other reports instead suggest this relationship could be symbiotic as the street gangs control territory in San Salvador and other large urban areas and the Perrones are more established in smaller locales. The Perrones also often hires armed gangs as support
The group has also established strong relations with government officials in the eastern portion of El Salvador, where the National Conciliation Party and the Nationalist Republic Alliance (ARENA) are prominent.
During his career and Luna was able to develop links with the upper echelon of the political elite in the countries where he operated. Following his death, his son published a photo of the criminal with the former president of Honduras Porfirio Lobo, while Lobo was in office.
Luna has been killed and many of the original leaders of Los Perrones such as Daniel Quezada, Reynerio Flores, Juan Colorado have been captured. In April 2019, Chepe Luna’s brother, Santos Ernesto Luna, was sentenced to six years in prison for smuggling contraband. However, Los Perrones have regrouped and have managed to remain one of the greatest criminal forces in El Salvador.