Fugitive El Salvador Mayor Accused of Aiding Transnational Organized Crime

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Recent accusations against a former mayor in El Salvador of exchanging real estate with a drug trafficker are yet further proof of the entrenched relationship between politics and organized crime in the country and highlight new, more sophisticated, corruption dynamics.

Juan Umaña Samayoa, ex-mayor of the northwestern town of Metapán, is accused of swapping plots of land with Isaac García Lemus, who is believed to be the head of an international smuggling network dismantled by Salvadoran authorities on March 13, 2018.

Umaña Samayoa was implicated after authorities seized seven of García Lemus’ properties, one of which was previously owned by the former mayor. El Salvador’s Anti-Narcotic Division (División Antinarcóticos – DAN) launched the investigation into the criminal network after cocaine and contraband cigarettes were confiscated while entering El Salvador from Guatemala.

This is not the first criminal allegation against the former mayor, who has been on the run since April 2017 after he was accused of laundering money through a real estate business connected to José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias “Chepe Diablo,” the Salvadoran businessman known as a founding member and leader of the Texis Cartel.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Texis Cartel

Last year, Umaña inaugurated a new paved road abutting the properties owned by the smuggling network, and authorities identified the road as a trafficking route to Guatemala.

InSight Crime Analysis

Umaña’s land swap with García implies a more sophisticated level of corruption that could exist within the country’s administrative offices like notaries, land registries or other bureaucratic agencies.

What’s more, rather than an attempt to aid local gangs, Umaña’s land swap in this case was an effort to facilitate a transnational smuggling ring. The ex-mayor’s connections with Chepe Diablo suggest that international groups like the Texis Cartel might have some influence over El Salvador’s municipal politics, although it’s difficult to determine exactly how much.

Reports of links between politicians and criminal networks in El Salvador are not new, particularly at the local level.

The mayor of Apopa — a suburb in San Salvador — was arrested in 2017 for allegedly facilitating extortion networks. Another mayor associated with the National Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista — ARENA) party, Lucio Edwin Ayala, was arrested last week for his alleged involvement in running a drug trafficking network in the municipality of San Antonio de la Cruz in the north of the country.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Corruption in El Salvador

Similar threads of corruption also reached the national stage when, in 2016, videos surfaced showing members of the ruling Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional – FMLN) offering $10 million in microcredit to gang leaders in exchanger for their support in the 2014 elections.

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