US Turns Sights on Evasive El Salvador Cartel Leader

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The US has added prominent El Salvador businessman and Texis Cartel founder “Chepe Diablo” to its “Kingpin List,” a move that may further erode the aura of immunity that until recently surrounded the powerful drug trafficking and money laundering organization.

On May 30, US President Barack Obama informed Congress that Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, alias “Chepe Diablo,” had been named a Specially Designated National by the US Treasury Department under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. 

John Feeley, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the US Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, noted that this designation does not necessarily imply judicial investigations have been opened against an individual, reported La Prensa Grafica.

El Salvador’s Justice Ministry considers Salazar to be at the head of the Texis Cartel. In April, he was formally charged with tax evasion amid an ongoing investigation into cartel associates. 

Two more drug traffickers were also added to the Kingpin list, including Victor Ramon Navarro Serrano, alias “Megateo,” a former guerrilla from Colombia’s Popular Liberation Army (EPL) who is now the leader of a dissident rebel faction and a major drug trafficker.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Texis Cartel has long managed to remain under the radar of Salvadoran authorities, due in part to its high-level political and business connections, which have allowed its leaders to disguise their illicit drug trafficking activities under a cloak of legitimacy. The group has also favored tactics like bribery and corruption over violence, thus attracting less attention.

SEE ALSO: Texis Cartel Profile

Until recently, Salazar was a prime example of this, as the president of El Salvador’s first soccer division and owner of a hotel chain.

However, authorities have been edging closer to the cartel leader since last year, beginning with the July 2013 arrest of Roberto “El Burro” Herrera — another of the founders — on charges of car theft. Months later, 16 alleged Texis Cartel members linked to “El Burro” were arrested.

The United States’ decision could push El Salvador to speed the process of shutting down the cartel’s operations, and will also place economic sanctions on any US-side operations in which he may be involved. However, Salazar has thus far demonstrated an impressive ability to evade justice, and it is questionable to what extent his operations in El Salvador will ultimately be affected by the designation.

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