Northern Triangle Deploys Tri-National Force to Combat Gangs

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The Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will launch a tri-national force aimed at disrupting the movements of street gangs that are increasingly crossing borders in order to coordinate criminal activities and flee security crackdowns. 

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández announced in a November 14 press conference that the anti-gang unit would be inaugurated the following day in the western department of Ocotepeque, which shares a border with El Salvador and Guatemala, reported AFP. Hernández said that the force will be comprised of police, military, intelligence, migration and customs officials. 

The head of state also said that the unit will monitor some 600 kilometers of shared border areas “because we are no longer going to permit that criminals commit atrocities in one country and evade justice by fleeing to another.”

Hernández added that the unit will increase intelligence sharing among the Northern Triangle countries, which will facilitate “the capture of drug traffickers, gang members and any other criminals along the border.”

The deployment of the anti-gang force has been in the works since it was first announced in August.

InSight Crime Analysis

The new unit is a response to the increasing number of gang members migrating from one Northern Triangle country to another. Most of this migratory flow is emanating from El Salvador, where the crackdown on gangs by security forces has been felt the strongest. Over 365 alleged Salvadoran gang members were reportedly arrested in just the first ten months of this year. Rather than maintaining a low profile, some of these gang members who fled because of the increased security pressure have gone on to become leaders of gang structures in Guatemala. 

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While the problem it seeks to address is real, the initiative may be more window dressing than tangible security reform. Authorities from the three countries are presumably already sharing intelligence and monitoring the border areas; as Hernández mentioned in the press conference, Honduras and Guatemala deployed a similar bi-national force to its shared frontier last year. The effectiveness of the new tri-national force will ultimately depend on whether the Northern Triangle countries can improve upon the mechanisms for multilateral security cooperation already in place. However, on this topic there have so far been few details. 

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