‘Shyboy,’ the Mysterious Spokesman of El Salvador’s MS503

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The government of El Salvador says a profound division exists within the MS13, provoked by a dissident group known as the MS503 or the “503 Program.” Every time there is a spike in homicides, the authorities blame this supposed conflict. The visible face of the self-proclaimed program is “Shyboy,” a low-level gang member whose face has circulated across the internet, reading messages instructing the MS13 not to get involved in politics or elections.

Carlos Humberto Rodríguez Burgos, alias “Shyboy,” is an ex-gang member from the MS13 who left the Zacatecoluca prison in January 2017, and gained his freedom in July after an 18-year sentence. He claims to speak in the name of the MS503, an alleged dissident faction regularly mentioned by the Security Ministry, but one which is not known to have a significant presence in neighborhoods and districts of El Salvador.

Rodríguez Burgos chose to go without a shirt in all three videos in which he speaks on behalf of the MS503. The tattoos that give away his gang affiliation climb up his torso, arms and neck. However, he did not need to show his chest to show them off; on his forehead are a good sized M and S.

*This story was translated, edited for clarity and length, and published with permission from El Faro. It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

Unlike other gang members who have gained infamy in official circles or in the media, Rodríguez Burgos is not a well-known face. He is not a national leader either, nor was he among the dozens of MS13 leaders involved in the truce that the gang negotiated with the government of ex-president Mauricio Funes.

Despite his low profile, Rodríguez Burgos accepted being the most visible face of a group of dissident gang members within the MS13, and the voice of a couple of politically-charged press releases. In these, he declares war on the traditional leaders of the MS13, urges his gang to stop attacks on police and soldiers, and calls on them not to interfere in politics and not to negotiate any electoral support with political parties. Nevertheless, he has been able to go relatively unnoticed.

The MS13 baptized Rodríguez Burgos as Shyboy when he was just a child. However, it is not easy to make the hissing sound demanded of the correct pronunciation of his nickname, and in police and legal archives his name has been transformed according to each official, ending up as “Chiboy,” “Cheiboy” or even “Cheibo.” Perhaps for that reason, for the first video Rodríguez Burgos appeared in as spokesman of the so-called MS503, he chose to present himself as “Esmalin,” from the “Novenas Locas” clique.

A Guest of Zacatraz

According to his prison record, Rodríguez Burgos — Shyboy or Esmailin — was sentenced in September 1999 for killing another inmate in a juvenile prison.

In June 2010, Shyboy was tranferred to Zacatecoluca prison, also known as Zacatraz, where the heads of the three main gangs operating in El Salvador are held. However, being a neighbor of a boss does not make you a boss. The MS13 do not see Rodríguez Burgos as one of their top-level members, to the extent that during the 2012 to 2014 gang truce he was not even considered for transfer from a maximum security prison to a less strict alternative.

But in January 2017, Rodríguez Burgos was part of a group of at least 22 MS13 members calling themselves leaders of the 503 Program, who managed to convince the authorities to move them to communal prisons in return for dividing the gang into two factions, just as their rival Barrio 18 had done a decade before when it split into the Revolucionarios and the Sureños factions.

Prison authorities removed inmates from Zacatraz who appeared not to meet the requirements of living in communal prisons. Among them was one known as “Snarf,” who had escaped from solitary confinement twice — both times committing murder just days after and shooting at police who tried to recapture him — as well as two others, “Fulton Gasper” and “Fulton Skinny” — who had killed other inmates at the same maximum security prison just three days before they were moved. The real motivation for the government to move this group of gang members, however, was their self-identification as members of the dissident MS503.

In the Ciudad Barrios prison, this group of inmates filmed an initial video, in which they claimed to be a parallel group, dissatisfied with the decisions made by the MS13’s traditional leadership. In the video, filmed at some point between January and July 2017, Rodríguez Burgos appears for the first time. He does not have a prominent role, and his lines are limited to a mention of his nickname in a short message: “Mara Salvatrucha 13, Esmailin from the Novena. Hello to all the homeboys.”

SEE ALSO: MS13 News and Profile

In reality, none of his 21 co-stars have much more of a role in this video. One man, tattooed up to his eyebrows, acts as master of ceremonies and presents to the group.

“We’re part of the homeboys that just left Zacatecoluca. There are some things to do with what’s going on in the neighbourhood that we won’t share,” he says.

Then, each of them says their gang nickname and the clique to which they belong or belonged. Rodríguez Burgos is one of many. None of them wore shirts when the video was filmed.

The 22 members who came forward as dissidents were transferred to the Izalco prison in July 2017. Rodríguez Burgos was sent from Ciudad Barrios on July 6, and was formally registered on July 10. Three days later he was freed, having completed his sentence.

Originally, Rodríguez Burgos was set to leave in September, but the San Miguel Penitentiary Oversight Court recalculated his release date, estimating that he should leave two months early. The judge did not want to explain to El Faro the considerations he made in order to change the inmate’s release date.

This was the beginning of Shyboy’s career as the voice and face of the MS503. This was probably due to the fact he had one thing which the rest did not: freedom.

‘Our Aim: A Return to Gang War’

In the second video, Rodríguez Burgos is at once accompanied and alone. He appears, shirtless, with a large weapon in his hands topped with a scope. The gang member holds the gun with martial rigidity, as if he had practiced the pose. Around him, like simple props, are three others who do not say a word, and who are literally covered up to their eyes. They wear hats, balaclavas and long sleeved shirts. One has a gun and insists on holding it uncomfortably for the six minutes and eight seconds of the video. The other two only add to Rodríguez Burgos’ speech a couple of times by making signs with their hands, then return to their role as mute props.

The video was uploaded to the internet on September 5, 2017, less than two months after Rodríguez Burgos was freed. It was recorded indoors, and its frames offer no more clues as to where it was filmed.

The spokesperson reads a memo which is not directed to the members of the gang, but to “the Salvadoran people.” In its opening lines he contrasts his own gang — the “active members of the MS13, 503 Program” — with the MS13’s national leadership, which he derisively dubs the “MS-Truce.”

“We are against the extortion, rape, and kidnappings of all Salvadoran people, and all acts which harm human beings in El Salvador.”

The message, read with great fluidity, is punctuated with otherworldly statements, or ones which are supposedly from another world, far from that of the gangs.

“We definitively disassociate ourselves from all acts of vandalism carried out by the so-called MS-Truce against the government and civilian population,” he says. “We are against the deaths of elderly people, children, students, and other civilians caused by the MS-Truce, given that the gang is not a guerrilla group nor a terrorist group … We are against the extortion, rape, and kidnappings of all Salvadoran people, and all acts which harm human beings in El Salvador.”

But the thrust of the speech points elsewhere. In short, it says that gang members must continue killing, but only killing rival gang members. Above all else, they must stop interfering in politics and stop attacking police officers and soldiers.

Before the video abruptly ends, Rodríguez Burgos attempts to rally others to his cause: “So now we want to say to everyone who wants to join us, the door is open. Everyone who wants to stop being used, the door is open. We are waiting … We came to regain the values of the gang.”

‘Good Examples’

The third and final video was uploaded online on October 4, 2017, a month after the second. It was filmed in a location with the same colors as the previous location, and in a place where chickens can be heard. Rodríguez Burgos, shirtless again, is this time not the only one to show his face. Another gang member whom El Faro could not identify also appears, showing his tattooed torso but wearing sunglasses and a hat, which partially hide his face. There are also four others, completely covered. None of them have weapons, or at least they do not show them.

This time Shyboy reads a message from the pages of a notebook, which is not directed at the “Salvadoran people,” but rather at a smaller, no less diverse group: the “homeboys of the international MS13.”

The message is the same: The gang should not get involved in politics nor should it negotiate with politicians. Those who do are “rats.” Once again, Shyboy refers to the traditional gang leadership as the “MS-Truce,” and encourages them to remember that the first gang members who arrived in El Salvador from Los Angeles did not “teach them to be doing deals with the government.” He says so despite knowing that these initial deportees make up a significant part of the leadership and that some were founders of the gang in the United States.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles

He insists that the leaders should not negotiate the gang’s electoral support: “We, as MS13 ‘503 Program’ feel proud of the homeboys in these [Honduras, Guatemala and the United States], because as MS13 members we share the same ideas. We want to ask of those who claim to be the bosses of the neighborhood in El Salvador that now they do not bring shame on us as a neighborhood, by sending people to find 10 civilians for each member of the gang for them to give their votes to corrupt political parties.”

The funniest thing about the message are the winks directed at MS13 members outside of El Salvador: “We have good examples in [Los Angeles], Guatemala and Honduras, homeboys that raise their heads, proud to be gang members.”

This message lasts just two minutes 18 seconds. Like the other message, it also finishes suddenly.

*This story was translated, edited for clarity and length, and published with permission from El Faro. It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

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