Honduras’ ‘Operation Avalanche’ Suggests MS13 Sophistication

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An ongoing security operation against the Mara Salvatrucha in Honduras has uncovered evidence that suggests the street gang is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Operation Avalanche” — a Honduran police operation targeting the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) street gang — has led to the discovery and seizure of large quantities of precursor chemicals that allegedly belong to the MS13, reported La Tribuna.

According to Ricardo Castro, director of Honduras’ Technical Agency of Criminal Investigation (Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal – ATIC), these chemicals are imported from Colombia, processed into drugs, repackaged, and exported back to Colombia.

Castro said the MS13 derives a significant portion of its wealth from this criminal activity, and invests the illicit money in assets such as houses, vehicles, chemicals, and transport companies, among other things.

In addition, Castro noted close links between MS13 counterparts in Honduras and El Salvador, reported El Diaro de Hoy. For instance, authorities believe an MS13 leader arrested in San Pedro Sula recently, Denis Adalid Paguaga Puerto, had been living in El Salvador.

Honduran authorities have also linked four mayors to criminal involvement with the MS13. Preliminary investigations suggest the MS13 funded the electoral campaigns of the mayors, who in exchange facilitated the operations of MS13 in their municipality.

Overall, Operation Avalanche has resulted in the seizure of 112 assets and an array of weapons, while $575,000 has been confiscated and $220,000 frozen in bank accounts, reported La Tribuna. Twelve suspects have also been put under arrest since the operation began early last week.  

InSight Crime Analysis

The findings of Operation Avalanche lend weight to claims the MS13 is becoming an increasingly sophisticated and structured transnational criminal organization. Such claims have been robustly supported by Douglas Farah in a recent piece published by Foreign Policy, and reprinted here at InSight Crime.

SEE ALSO: MS13 News and Profile

The MS13’s apparent role in trafficking drugs into Colombia supports Farah’s suggestion that the group is in some cases “displacing traditional transport networks,” and moving beyond simple drug distribution.

MS13’s trans-border structure appears to function as a franchise, in which each geographical group, or “clica,” retains significant autonomy while maintaining links as well as sharing goals and modus operandi. The MS13 are incontrovertibly united in their rivalry with the Barrio 18 gang, which is also present in both Honduras and El Salvador. However, their cross-border ties appear to go well beyond this.

Recent InSight Crime investigations suggest that certain Salvadoran MS13 leaders have established satellite operators in Honduras, or use the country as operational headquarters in their bid to manage operations in the international drug trade.

In another illustration of the porous nature of the gangs’ territorial divisions, reports also emerged during 2015 of MS13 members fleeing tough anti-gang policies in El Salvador and establishing themselves in neighboring Honduras. Such a phenomenon, typically referred to as the “cockroach effect” — whereby criminal groups facing pressure in one region move to an area of lower resistance — has also been detected with the movement of Barrio 18 members from El Salvador to Guatemala.

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