El Salvador Govt Turned Blind Eye to Official’s Arms Trafficking

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A recent report points once again to the role high-ranking El Salvador military officials play in driving that nation’s illicit arms trade, helping fuel rampant gang violence and bloodshed.

Since 2010 El Salvador’s National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil – PNC) and several other state institutions bought over $500,000 worth of guns, munitions, and bulletproof vests from the arms businesses of retired army major Miguel Ángel Pocasangre Escobar, reported La Prensa Gráfica

While not the Salvadoran government’s largest arms provider, government entities continued to do business with Pocasangre even after he became the subject of arms trafficking allegations. 

According to La Prensa Gráfica, Pocasangre first came to the attention of authorities in 2011 when an undercover agent was able to illegally purchase a weapon from a gun store. Investigations into the case produced a protected witness for El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República – FGR), who alleged that between 2004 and 2005 Pocasangre and another military official, Carlos Zavaleta Morán, worked together to steal weapons from a military arms depot. These weapons were later sold with altered serial numbers.

That witness, known as “William,” first testified in March 2013, but the FGR would not formally accuse Pocasange of arms trafficking until October 2015. During this interval the PNC, and even the FGR, bought weapons from Pocasange on repeated occasions, despite the testimony denouncing his activities, La Prensa Gráfica reported. 

Some of Pocasangre’s alleged clientele also included convicted drug traffickers and money launderers. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Pocasangre’s case is El Salvador’s latest in a long line of official involvement in arms trafficking, yet it is particularly embarrassing given the same government agencies investigating him for arms trafficking continued to purchase supplies from him.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking

Paradoxically, while the Salvadoran government has pledged to stamp out rampant gang violence, members of the military have consistently been implicated in providing weapons to gangs. In October 2015, the same month the FGR brought charges against Pocasangre, authorities arrested a high-ranking officer of the Special Brigade of Military Security for allegedly selling guns to gang members. The month prior, authorities raided the house of a former colonel and found a stockpile of weapons, including sniper rifles, submachine guns, and grenades. Officials believed the stockpile was also intended to be sold to gang members.

This illicit arms trade helps fuel a conflict that has made El Salvador the bloodiest nation in the Americas.

Nonetheless, El Salvador is not the only Central American nation where an illicit arms trade has underpinned high levels of violence. Neighboring Honduras is awash in illegal firearms, and unregistered weapons have previously been estimated to be used in 80 percent of all crimes in the country.

Until officials take serious steps to rid the trade in illicit arms — and official involvement in this trade — the region’s chronic violence levels can be expected to continue apace.

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