El Salvador President: US ‘Overestimating’ MS-13

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El Salvador’s President, Mauricio Funes, contradicted the United States government’s recent designation of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization, casting doubt on the sophistication of the gang’s finance networks. 

In his October 14th radio show, President Funes voiced skepticism of the decision to add the MS-13 to the US Treasury’s list of transnational criminal organizations. While he did not dispute the fact that the gang is a criminal threat, he questioned whether it was appropritate to place it on the same level as other, more established international crime syndicates.

“The problem has been overstated, not by considering [Mara Salvatrucha] a criminal organization, but in the sense of overestimating the economic risk or financial risk resulting from the criminal actions of the MS, and putting it on a par with other transnational criminal organizations like the Zetas or the Camorra in Italy,” President Funes said.

InSight Crime Analysis

As InSight Crime has pointed out, the new designation of the gang may not have much of an impact on the MS-13. While it may make it more difficult for MS-13 members in the US to send back illicit profits to gang members in El Salvador, the gang is not believed to have any major assets in the US. Still, the designation has raised questions about the Mara’s international structure, which is demonstrating signs of increasing sophistication.

The fact that the US made the decision to reclassify the gang as a transnational threat in the midst of a government-facilitated truce between the MS-13 and its rivals in Barrio 18 may be no coincidence. It effectively rattles the Mara’s attempts to improve its image and gain a measure of political standing.

But by hyping up the threat of the gang, the US also makes it more difficult for the Salvadoran government to justify its involvement in the gang truce. Offering incentives for a local street gang to renounce the use of violence is one thing, but negotiating with a US-designated transational criminal organization is very different. As such, Funes downplaying the designation could be seen as an attempt at damage control. 

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