El Salvador’s new security minister has claimed the truce has allowed the Barrio 18 and MS-13 street gangs to strengthen ties with transnational drug traffickers, showing a significant rhetorical shift from his predecessor.
Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo told La Prensa Grafica that over the course of the truce “there are groups that have increased their drug trafficking activities.” Perdomo said that though there was evidence of gangs moving drugs to Guatemala prior to the truce, it had now become a “national security concern.”
He also attributed a recent spike in homicides to attempted territorial expansion by one faction of the Barrio 18, called the “Revolutionaries,” which he said had become involved in drug trafficking and had led attacks on members of the MS-13.
When asked about his apparent change in stance regarding the gang truce compared to former Security Minister David Munguia Payes, whose term was suspended by the Salvadoran Supreme Court because of his military resume, Perdomo said it was down to new instructions from the president to “conform to reality.”
InSight Crime Analysis
InSight Crime investigations have revealed that fears about these deepening ties between the gangs and more sophisticated criminal organizations are largely unfounded.
What’s more, Perdomo’s comments must be seen in light of his possible political agenda to keep his reputation clean as he positions himself for a job during the next administration. Though Perdomo was originally thought to be a supporter of the truce alongside Munguia (one of the principal truce negotiators), the new security minister has begun to publicly criticize the truce since taking office in May, saying recently that it has not created peace for most Salvadorans. Presidential elections are in March 2014.
Still, Perdomo’s comments are similar to a March report by International Assessment and Strategy Center fellow Douglas Farah, which said the MS-13’s relationship with local transport groups was expanding. Munguia at the time dismissed Farah’s views, though various questions have emerged over other aspects of truce sustainability.
A dramatic drop in murders in the first seven months of the truce was followed by a spike in violence between October and April, though a statistical analysis by Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow Juan Carlos Garzon for InSight Crime shows a reduction of homicides has actually been sustained.
US actions have added fuel to the critics. In October 2012, seven months after the implementation of the truce, the US placed the MS-13 on a list of transnational drug trafficking organizations, alongside powerful groups like Mexico’s Zetas. Later it put economic sanctions on six MS-13 leaders.