Salvador Police Link MS-13 to International Cocaine Shipment

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Salvadoran police suspect the MS-13 gang of being in charge of transporting a large cocaine shipment seized in the Pacific province of Sonsonate, suggesting that the group is building ties with international traffickers.

On October 7, police discovered a boat containing 113 packages of cocaine, valued at over $2 million, on the shore of Metalio, Sonsonate, reported El Mundo. The boat had no crew or identifying flag.

The head of the Attorney General’s anti-drug trafficking unit suggested that the manner in which the drugs were hidden was characteristic of South American trafficking organizations. Anti-narcotics police chief Marco Tulio Lima said that the boat seized is of a type generally constructed in Colombia or Ecuador.

According to El Mundo, Lima offered several hypotheses about how the boat ended up on the beach in Metalio. One is that the presence of the navy spooked the drug traffickers into abandoning their load. Another is that the boat was dropped off in Metalio so that local gang members could unload the cocaine and transport it overland to Guatemala. Lima added that the area surrounding Metalio is controlled by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and suggested that the street gang might be working “in complicity with maritime traffickers in the region.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Located in northern El Salvador on the Pacific coast, Sonsonate is a strategic hub for traffickers seeking to move drug shipments into Guatemala and on to Mexico. The province is also the country’s most violent, with a homicide rate of 88 per 100,000 in 2011, due partly to infighting among local gangs for territorial control.

If the police are correct that MS-13 was responsible for transporting the cocaine shipment, it would suggest the gang has established links with international drug traffickers in Sonsonate. Police have said that in Chalatenango province, which borders on Honduras, the links between organized crime and gangs like the MS-13 are so established that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.

The question is whether the MS-13 would actually be contracted to unload a cocaine shipment and traffic it themselves into Guatemala — such work is usually performed by local groups known as “transportistas.” There are allegations that MS-13 is becoming more deeply involved in transnational criminal activities, working as local enforcers for traffickers moving cocaine through El Salvador.

The US Treasury Department even officially designated the group as a transnational criminal organization, the first such designation for a street gang, although the decision has been questioned by some observers, including El Salvador’s president.

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