MS13 Expanding After Truce Collapse in El Salvador?

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In the aftermath of the collapse of El Salvador’s gang truce, authorities have said the MS13 gang is deepening its hold on illegal migration routes in Mexico, a possible sign of the increasing transnational capabilities indicated by both Salvadoran and US officials.

Cells of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) are attempting to establish control over routes used by migrants in various towns in Chiapas state, on the border with Guatemala. They are targeting undocumented migrants for extortion and kidnapping, among other crimes, reported Proceso.

According to the special prosecutor for Chiapas’ migrant unit, Alejandro Vila, there have already been a number of confrontations between these cells and their rivals of Barrio 18, also present in the zone.

Vila said the renewed presence of the MS13 was a result of the reactivation of freight train “The Beast,” commonly used by northward bound Central American migrants. The train’s operations had been suspended due to hurricane damage.

The report comes shortly after El Salvador’s outgoing president declared the truce between the MS13 and Barrio 18 had “failed.” Just before the announcement, the tiny Central American nation saw a return to record murder rates, with 30 homicides registered in a single day.

InSight Crime Analysis

El Salvador’s gang truce, initially credited with nearly halving the country’s homicide rate, was abandoned by the government that helped negotiate it. Homicides have been steadily rising since mid-2013, and truce critics — particularly Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo — have claimed the gangs simply used the initiative to grow stronger and increase their involvement in transnational drug trafficking

SEE ALSO: El Salvador’s Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

The United States had already given a similar prognosis for the MS13 in late 2012, when it designated the group a transnational criminal organization, citing activities including drug trafficking, human smuggling and sex trafficking.

The MS13’s structure has been previously described as a loose, decentralized network with highly localized operations. However, there have been signs of a growingly sophisticated and integrated command structure, including interactions between US-based leaders and Salvadoran members.

If the MS13 is increasing its presence in Mexico’s southern border region, this could be another indication of increasing transnational reach. While the gang has long been involved in kidnapping and extorting migrants, the current report suggests significant control over a large area, which would demand some coordination. However there it is perhaps easy to overestimate the cohesion of MS13, which is not a centrally directed and coordinated organization, but rather a franchise of affiliated cliques, which can sometimes work together.

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