Title: El Salvador Organized Crime
Junior - May 30, 2011 08:30 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Soldiers 'Selling Guns to Drug Gangs'
Written by Hannah Stone, InSight.Com
Monday, 30 May, 2011
El Salvador's army arrested six soldiers on suspicion of trying to steal more than 1,800 hand grenades to sell to drug trafficking organizations.
Defence Minister David Munguia Payes said that the operation had involved eight months of intelligence work, reports La Prena Grafica.
The detained men, two of whom were officers, were involved in exercises to destroy obselete weapons. They are accused of hiding the arms, instead of disposing of them.
Munguia said that military intelligence had dealt a strong blow to an entrenched group that was trying to sell weapons to "organized crime, gangs, and narco-traffickers."
Elements in both Guatemala's and Honduras' military are accused of supplying weapons to drug cartels, as InSight has reported.
Junior - October 5, 2011 10:34 PM (GMT)
El Salvador: The New Disappeared
Written by Hannah Stone, Insight
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
El Salvador is suffering a new wave of disappearances, mostly of young people and teenagers, who go missing without explanation in a phenomenon linked to the gang violence currently hitting the country.
Thousands of El Salvadorans disappeared in the country’s civil war. Some were children who kidnapped and sent abroad for adoption, and some victims of death squads or the military who were buried in mass graves. Now, almost 20 years after the conflict ended, online newspaper El Faro says that disappearances are as much of an everyday phenomenon as they were during the war.
The police received more than 1,200 reports of disappearances between January 2007 and December 2008, and in the first four months of this year they registered 179 -- double the number in the same period in 2010. This is likely an under-representation of the true number of disappeared, as many families will not report their relatives missing, for fear of reprisals. Many of these are young people, with the average age of the missing being between 15 and 25. There is no official body in El Salvador that keeps reliable and complete records of the disappeared, according to El Faro.
Some of the victims are likely to be found in the mass graves which are being found more and more frequently around the country, according to El Diario de Hoy. In August a mass grave containing more than 10 bodies was discovered in Sacacoyo, just outside San Salvador. While one government official said that these contain old corpses buried during the civil war, the Attorney General’s Office said that all of them had died since 2009. Forensic scientist Israel Ticas has been excavating the bodies, which are among more than 500 that he has been involved in removing from their clandestine burial grounds in the last five years.
Ticas attributes the killings to criminal groups, and notes the extreme cruelty of some of the killings, with one man appearing to have been buried alive. According to the scientist, some 95 percent of the bodies in these mass graves are aged under 17, and a majority are women.
El Faro has produced a photo essay which catalogues the spaces vacated by these missing people, many of them teenagers, and the stories told by their relatives point towards a gaping hole in knowledge about what happened to the victims. In some cases, relatives point to local branches of gangs like the Barrio 18 (M-18) and Marasalvatrucha 13 (MS-13), while in many they are at a loss to explain what happened to the victim, who simply left the house one day and did not return.
El Salvador had one of the highest murder rates in the world, at 64 per 100,000 according to some measures, and much of this is driven by gang violence.
The following are InSight Crime’s translations of a selection of the texts accompanying El Faro’s photo essay, selected for their mention of criminal gangs.
David’s family saw him for the last time when he was leaving his house to go to study. This was part of the route he took each day to get to class [see photo, top of three below]. One hypothesis is that he was taken when leaving school by some classmates who were gang members, who thought that he was a member of a rival gang because he lived in a community dominated by it. He had already been threatened. The police say they do not know the cause of his disappearance.
This is the room where Carlos slept on a matress. Now it has been converted into a dining room. “The house is so small,” explain his relatives. There is nothing certain about his disappearance other than the date when it occured. The police think that the gang that dominates the Montreal community disappeared him because he had only lived a short while in that area and it could have generated mistrust. This year, in this area, by August five people had been murdered for alleged links with a rival gang.
Ernesto Mendez’s passion was playing football. He spent his afternoons in the community field, in Jardines de Lourdes, Colon. The day he disappeared he was going to a pitch in El Botocillal, also in Lourdes. According to the police, Ernesto lived in a neighborhood controlled by MS-13, and on July 1 he went into one controlled by Barrio 18, and this fact could be an explanation for his disappearance.
Junior - November 19, 2011 01:28 AM (GMT)
El Salvador Police Set to Seize 4,000 Guns in 2011
Written by Ronan Graham, InSight.com
Friday, November 18, 2011
El Salvador's government has seized an average of 12 weapons per day so far in 2011, according to officials.
According to a report in La Prensa, Deputy Director of Public Safety Hugo Ramirez Mejia said that between January 1 and November 15 this year, the Firearms and Explosives Division (DAE) of the country’s police force seized a total of 3,915 firearms.
Ramirez Mejia said this was a similar figure to those seized in the same period last year.
Since January 2010, Salvadoran police have been working in collaboration with the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in an attempt to trace the origin of weapons seized by police in the country. However, authorities have so far not released any information on their findings.
Many of El Salvador’s illegal weapons can be traced back to weapons used in the country’s civil war, which ended in 1992. Many more are stolen from military stockpiles, and reach the hands of criminal groups via corrupt officials.
Junior - November 28, 2011 06:29 PM (GMT)
Kidnappings Down 50% in El Salvador
Written by Jeanna Cullinan, InSight
Monday, November 28, 2011
El Salvador has seen a 50 percent drop in the number of kidnappings in 2011 compared to the previous year, according to an organized crime prosecutor.
Of the 50 cases reported in 2011, only 20 were determined to be actual kidnappings, while 33 other incidents were classified as extortion, said Rodolfo Delgado, chief prosecutor in the Attorney General's Special Unit for Organized Crime, Rodolfo Delgado.
Despite the declining numbers, Delgado voiced concerns about the participation of ex-offenders in these crimes, according to La Prensa Grafica newspaper. Criminals convicted prior to 2001, when legal reforms increased penalties for kidnapping, have now completed their sentences and, according to the chief prosecutor, are reoffending.
Delgado blamed the recent surge in "express kidnappings" in Guazapa, located northeast of San Salvador, on recidivist criminals who have allied with gangs in the region. Express kidnappings are those when the victim is held only for a few hours, and made to handover money from their bank accounts.
Kidnapping rings in El Salvador are allied with prison gangs and are responsible for the high fatality rate of kidnapping victims. Of the 45 kidnappings committed last year, 14 ended with the victim being murdered, reported the newspaper.
Junior - January 4, 2012 04:22 PM (GMT)
Counting the Amount of Cocaine Passing Through El Salvador
Written by Elyssa Pachico, InSight.com
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
A top drug policy official in El Salvador said they have no official estimate for how much cocaine transits through the country. After registering a record murder rate in 2011, could El Salvador be seeing record amounts of cocaine pass through its borders?
Last year, the US officially dubbed El Salvador a major drug-transit country. It was the last country in Central America to be added to the 22 countries on the blacklist, alongside Belize.
In an interview with La Prensa Grafica, Jorge Cortez, the head of the main anti-narcotics unit of the Attorney General's office, agreed with this characterization by the US. The country is primarily a stopover point for drug exports heading northwards, he said, and authorities have not identified any transnational cartels with permanent presence inside the country. The country does have a serious gang problem, but groups like the Barrio 18 and MS-13 are thought to primarily handle the retail distribution of drugs, with few links to transnational crime.
According to Cortez, marijuana trafficking routes are found in western and northern El Salvador, while the major routes for cocaine are based along the Pacific coast and some parts of the northern and eastern borders. Cortez identified the El Amatillo border crossing as one of the most vunerable points along El Salvador's frontiers. The crossing area is described as a "blind spot" where smugglers handle drugs, pirated goods and even animals.
Nevertheless, Cortez added that the anti-narcotics unit had no estimates for how much cocaine may actually be passing through El Salvador. The amount of cocaine reportedly seized in 2011 (over 600 kilos), 2010 (over 120 kilos) and 2009 (3.8 tons) are thought to be just a drop in the bucket. According to another estimate by the US State Department, approximately 400 tons of cocaine are thought to travel each year through Central America's Eastern Pacific region. The difficulty is trying to approximate how much is transiting through or being stockpiled in El Salvador.
Such information could help shed light on why El Salvador's homicide rates spiked so dramatically in 2011. Last year, the country saw its highest murder rate since the end of the civil war in 1992. Police say the spread of the domestic drug trade, known as "narcomenudeo," is responsible, as gang members are frequently paid with drugs and weapons rather than cash.
It seems plausible that the growth of El Salvador's cocaine transhipment trade is feeding the violence. A similar phenomenon is taking place in Honduras, described as the most important transit point for cocaine heading to Mexico and onwards to the US. But with no reliable estimates for the quantities of narcotics flowing through El Salvador, it is difficult to say whether the drug trade is better or worse compared to its other Northern Triangle neighbors, Guatemala and Honduras.
In the coming year, it may be tough for El Salvador's anti-narcotic force to reverse these trends, if they lack the resources to fully understand the extent of the problem. Considering that only 34 percent of murders last year have been solved, authorities will have a tougher time arguing that the majority of homicides were related to drug trafficking. Better data on the dynamics of El Salvador's internal drug trade could better enable authorities to stop the murder rate from climbing any higher.
Estimates related to the drug trade are nebulous figures by nature. But at least such estimates are protection against admitting that the government knows nothing at all.
Junior - January 12, 2012 11:02 PM (GMT)
Surge in Disappearances Reflects Gang Violence in El Salvador
Written by Hannah Stone, InSight.com
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
El Salvador saw a huge number of disappearances in 2011, with capital San Salvador alone registering more than 2,000 missing people, in a sign of growing gang violence.
In the capital, some 2,007 people were registered as missing with the government forensics office (IML) between January 1 and December 19, 2011, reports El Diario de Hoy.
Miguel Velasquez, an official at the IML, told the newspaper that local gangs, or "maras," were likely involved in three-quarters of the cases.
Young people, aged 15-35, are far more likely to go missing than any other age group, representing up to 60 percent of cases, while about three-quarters of the victims are men.
InSight Crime's Analysis
The figure of more than 2,000 missing would represent an enormous leap in cases in the last few years, as according to figures quoted in the press the police received only in the region of 1,200 reports of disappearances in the two-year period of 2007-08.
If the vast majority of those missing are now dead, as El Diario de Hoy reports, then this would increase the country's murder rate, which stood at 65 per 100,000 in 2011, by one-third. This would bring it into line with neighboring Honduras, which has a rate of over 80 per 100,000 -- the highest in the world.
Much of these murders, and the disappearances, are due to clashes between gangs, often related to fights over territory, as El Faro documented in a recent photo essay. The fact that these gangs are apparently often choosing to hide their victims' bodies rather than leaving them on display, as is often seen in mass killings in Mexico, suggests that they are more concerned to conceal their crime and avoid punishment than to make a public point and spread fear.
The most prominent street gangs in El Salvador are the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18.
Junior - January 19, 2012 10:08 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Police Seize $1.5 Million in Fake Cash
Written by Christopher Looft, InSight
Thursday, January 19, 2012
El Salvador police arrested four people and seized about $1.5 million in fake dollar bills Thursday, highlighting the growth of the counterfeit trade in part due to the country's dollarized economy.
According to La Prensa Grafica, an official from the Attorney General’s office said the seizure and arrest were the result of a four month investigation. He said the four suspects arrested were also accused of trafficking guns and drugs; authorities recovered a pistol and a trace amount of unspecified drugs at the scene.
The money seized was likely intended for export, according to the same official.
InSight Crime Analysis
El Salvador adopted the dollar as its national currency in 2001. Along with lax laws regarding the movement of large amounts of cash in and outside of the country, the dollarization of the El Salvador economy has proved attractive to criminal groups. This is especially true as most drug transactions are carried out with dollars. Thus, in dollarized economies like El Salvador, Panama, and Ecuador, there is no need for criminal groups exchange money into another currency.
El Salvador's dollarized economy may be feeding the growth of the counterfeit trade. La Prensa Grafica reported that in 2011, from January to November, banks reported finding $161,696 in counterfeit bills, a more than 30 percent increase over the same period in 2009.
Colombia has long been Latin America's top producer of counterfeit dollars, although the industry has grown exponentially in Peru over the past several years.
Junior - January 25, 2012 08:35 PM (GMT)
Are El Salvador’s Gangs Plotting to 'Take Down the System'?
Written by Geoffrey Ramsey, InSight.com
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
El Salvador’s police have claimed that the country’s “maras,” or street gangs, are planning an all-out attack on security forces, despite the fact that these groups have neither the organizational structure nor motive to do so.
The deputy director of investigation for the Salvadoran National Civil Police (PNC), Howard Cotto, claims that authorities believe imprisoned gang leaders are contacting gang members on the outside and directing them to attack security forces. In remarks to El Salvador’s Contrapunto, Cotto said that those behind this scheme refer to it as an attack on “the system.”
Deputy director of prisons, Nelson Rauda, backed the claim, saying that authorities had intercepted letters from mara leaders which contained a call to attack “members of the Salvadoran Armed Forces, the PNC, prison staff members, as well as judges and prosecutors.”
It is true that the Central American country’s gangs are a growing security threat. As InSight Crime has reported, El Salvador’s murder rate is the highest it has been in years. This rise was accompanied by an overwhelming number of disappearances in 2011, with more than 2,000 people having been reported missing in San Salvador alone. According to Minister of Security David Munguia Payes, 90 percent of the murders in the country are gang-related.
Despite the threat they pose to citizen security, the non-hierarchical nature of El Salvador’s maras suggests that a concerted attack on security forces would be nearly impossible to orchestrate. While the main street gangs active in the country -- groups like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Barrio 18 and the Texis Cartel -- do have networks spread throughout the country, they lack the firm chain of command of more structured organized crime groups, like Mexico’s Zetas. Relations between gang cells, more so than within cartels, vary according to complex local identities and variations in criminal interests. As such, the idea of a gang like MS-13 declaring a widespread campaign against state forces is highly suspect.
What’s more, the lack of details released by both Cotto and Rauda make their claims difficult to take seriously. For one thing, neither official made mention of which particular street gang was behind this strategy. It could be that this omission was due to security considerations, but it casts the authenticity of the claim into question.
Ultimately, the remark could have more to do politics than with the reality of gang violence in the country. The PNC is currently in the middle of a major anti-corruption purge which has resulted in the investigation of more than 1,600 officers for misconduct. As such, the claims may simply be designed to garner public sympathy for the police, in an attempt to cast the police force as the “good guys.”
Mara attacks on police officials are more likely to take place on an individual basis, and to come in response to direct interference with the gangs’ activities. Ironically, such interference does not always come in the form of justice or strict law enforcement, a point which could backfire for the PNC. It is just as likely that a gang would target police in retaliation for a crackdown as it is that they would target them for charging too much for a “cut” of the action, or for entering into an alliance with a rival gang.
Junior - January 31, 2012 10:24 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Transfers 1,000 Inmates to Break Up New Gang
Written by Christopher Looft, InSight.com
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Authorities in El Salvador have transferred more than 1,000 inmates in an attempt to stabilize some of the country's violent, overcrowded prisons following the death of nine inmates earlier this month.
La Prensa Grafica reports that authorities moved suspected members of a new prison gang, Mara Desorden, in order to prevent a massive break-out they were planning. According to prison director Douglas Moreno, the group is made up of former members of the country's two biggest gangs -- these are the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13).
El Salvador's minister of justice and public security, David Munguia Payes, said those who were moved may also have been preparing a preemptive strike on another group of prisoners.
InSight Crime Analysis
In an attempt to stem rising violence, El Salvador authorities have taken the "mano dura," or "iron fist," approach to security, which involves mass incarcerations of suspected gang members. This, however, had unintended consequences: gangs have taken advantage of the security offered by prisons to regroup and expand their operations.
If prison authorities are correct in saying that former members of the Barrio 18 and MS-13 have joined together to form a new gang, this would undermine conventional wisdom that the two groups are locked in a vicious war.
With more than 25,000 jammed into the country's facilities, which were designed to hold 8,000, El Salvador's prisons are holding three times their capacity. Transfering inmates between prisons is not likely to improve security in the long term.
Junior - February 15, 2012 06:56 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Unveils Elite Anti-Gang Police
By Christopher Looft, InSight.com
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
El Salvador has announced details of a new police unit focused on combating gangs, as part of the government's militarization of security policy, which resembles the discredited "iron fist" policies of previous governments.
Contra Punto reports that the Anti-Gang Unit will receive training in intelligence, tactics, and investigation to tackle gangs. The police will also receive specific training in the communication patterns of gangs, which the International Law Enforcement Academy has requested be extended to authorities in both Guatemala and Honduras.
El Faro reports that the unit, part of the National Civil Police, will be made up of 320 to 360 officers.
Meanwhile, police representatives from 22 districts met with the National Civil Police's Sub-Director for Investigations to coordinate efforts to step up arrests and imprisonments of gang members.
InSight Crime Analysis
The new unit is part El Salvador's escalating war on its gangs, following the appointment of retired military officials to top security posts. The new moves include proposals to impost a curfew on young people, and to place schools under heavy guard.
A police unit specializing in tackling gangs could be a good step, given the number of gang members in the country, but the proposal reflects the government's overemphasis on these groups, which new Security Minister David Munguia Payes claims are responsible for 90 percent of murders in the country. As InSight Crime has noted, this figure is highly questionable, and there are various other forces including drug trafficking groups that must be tackled.
Junior - March 16, 2012 10:02 PM (GMT)
Is El Salvador Negotiating with Street Gangs?
Written by Geoffrey Ramsey, InSight
Thursday, March 15, 2012
A new report by El Faro suggests that El Salvador's government may have struck a deal with its two largest street gangs to reduce violence, indicating that the country may be adopting a less militaristic security strategy.
El Salvador is facing a security crisis. Despite the introduction of hardline security policies in 2003 designed to minimize gang violence, the murder rate has nearly doubled, rising from 36 in that year to 70 per 100,000 in 2011. Since President Mauricio Funes took office in 2009, he has struggled to reduce violence.
Recently, he caused a stir by giving former members of the Salvadoran military prominent positions in his security cabinet. As InSight Crime has pointed out, this has led some to conclude that the government is returning to the heavy-handed (and failed) “mano dura” (iron fist) policies of the past. However, a new investigation co-authored by El Faro’s Oscar Martinez, Carlos Martinez, Sergio Arauz, and Efren Lemus, suggests that the government may have adopted a less combative approach to dealing with the powerful street gangs.
Last week, Salvadoran prison officials transferred around 30 imprisoned leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 from maximum security institutions to prisons with more relaxed rules on visitors. Following that, cells of both gangs around the country were told to keep their violent activities to a minimum, according to El Faro's sources. El Faro spoke to one gang leader, who confirmed the story. As the authors write:
“El Muchacho” received a call on his cell phone on Friday morning. The call came from the prison in Ciudad Barrios and the voice on the telephone explained the new policies of the MS-13: jailed leaders had decided that the gang needed to “calm down,” which in the group’s slang is the same as saying that killings and new extortion attempts would be prohibited until further notice.
El Muchacho is an individual with whom we had scheduled an interview in a San Salvador shopping mall. He is a boss, or “palabrero,” of a local MS-13 “clica” (band). Orders that come from prison are non-negotiable, so he called up his crew and relayed the message. “We’re on vacation,” he joked.
The clica led by this 30-something had to suspend some plans immediately. According to El Muchacho, the orders caused them to put off two hits they had planned for that very same day. The only reason the gangster obeys orders like this is his utter fear of the Mara Salvatrucha’s punishment system. If a subordinate disobeys, he will be punished with anything from a severe beating to death. If El Muchaho defied his orders, both he and his boss in the Ciudad Barrios prison would be punished.
By way of comparison, El Muchacho gave the following example: “If your boss tells you ‘find this report,’ you have to go rummaging for it, because your job depends on it. It’s the same. An order’s an order.”
The explanation he was given for these orders was that a group of imprisoned gang bosses in a maximum security facility in Zacatecoluca had been transferred to other facilities, and the new orders were given so that they would stay there. What he heard was this: there had been a negotiation between some mara leaders and the government, and as long as the gangs kept things calm the government wouldn’t have any motivation to return them Zacatecoluca.
The negotiations, if they indeed happened, have apparently worked. There has been a significant drop in homicides of late, with March 12 being the least violent day the country has seen in three years, with only two killings registered. The average for the first few weeks of this year was 13 a day. Although police claim that this recent improvement is due to “improved coordination and intelligence,” law enforcement and intelligence sources told El Faro a different story, and even mentioned a financial incentive for the drop in homicides.
The first news of the transfer came to this newspaper on Friday, April 9. It came in the form of a few lines from a report generated by the Police Intelligence Center (CIP). It claimed that the "green," referring to the military, had moved all the "junk" of the Mara Salvatrucha. "The information is confirmed," concluded the extract, which also spoke of thousands of dollars offered to the highest-ranking gang members if homicides fell this month.
That same day, an intelligence agent claimed that, according to officials who were closely involved, this strategy was led by Colonel Simon Molina Montoya, who served as an intelligence advisor to the current Security and Justice Minister, David Munguia Payes, when the latter was minister of defense. Currently, Molina Montoya is the second-in-command of the State Intelligence Agency (OIE).
When reached by phone on Wednesday, Montoya Molina said simply: "Sorry, I know nothing." El Faro attempted to interview General Munguia Payes on Tuesday to discuss the transfer of prisoners, but there was no response. This Wednesday the minister’s phone was called repeatedly, but none of our calls were returned. When El Faro called a ministry press official, the periodical relayed the contents of the article and asked for a response from the authorities. This official told El Faro that they had passed on the request to the minister, but that he still had no comment.
The CIP report and the claims of the intelligence agent suggest that negotiations are still in a sort of trial period this month, as the transfers have only one purpose: to bring the most important leaders of the two main gangs to prisons where security measures are more lax, so it is easier for them to spread the message to other leaders in prison, which in turn will contact their gang cells to relay the message.
A source in the OIE confirmed all this to El Faro. The informant added that some officials have voiced concerns about the negotiations, with some believing that reports of the talks have leaked more than expected despite the fact that they began less than a month ago.
El Faro spoke with yet another intelligence agent about the matter, who admitted that the government has undertaken negotiations with gangs in order to lower homicides. However, the sources disagree on the nature of the exchange. Two contacts mentioned the delivery of $10,000 to the families of five Mara Salvatrucha leaders, while another source spoke of simpler benefits, such as more comfortable living arrangements for those who have been transferred.
The assertion that these negotiations are led by a secretary with ties to Minister of Justice and Security Munguia is surprising. Mungia has appeared to favor a return to the more hardline security policies of the past. Just last month, he suggested that the civil liberty guarantees in El Salvador’s legal system were too strong, and stated that he was prepared to lock up an additional 10,000 gang members if need be.
If the allegations are true, it would suggest that El Salvador’s government has attempted a major shift in its anti-crime strategy, opting to negotiate with the “maras” instead of confronting them head on. This could be a positive sign for the future of citizen security in the country, as the iron fist strategy failed to rein in violence, and instead contributed to the expansion of the gangs.
However, if negotiations with just 30 gang leaders can bring about an immediate and drastic drop in homicides, this suggests that the gangs are responsible for a large percentage of murders in the country, as the government has claimed. It would also mean the gangs may be more hierarchically organized than previously thought. This would lend weight to claims that the gangs recently adopted a nationally-coordinated campaign against security forces, carrying out hits against members of the army and police. If this is all true, then in addition to threatening citizen security, these groups could pose a dire threat to El Salvador's institutions.
Junior - March 19, 2012 08:51 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Denies Negotiating with Gangs
Written by Hannah Stone, InSight
Monday, March 19, 2012
El Salvador's government has denied reports that it made a deal to give imprisoned gang bosses better living conditions in exchange for a reduction in violence.
Last week, El Faro reported that, according to its sources, the transfer of 30 gang members from a maximum security prison to lower security facilities was part of a government deal to bring down rates of violence. The transfers took place between March 9 and 11. El Faro spoke to a gang member on the outside who received an order on March 10 to keep violence to a minimum, as their side of the bargain. He immediately called his men to cancel two murders that had been planned for later that day.
Some of El Faro's sources suggested that payments had also been made to the gang bosses.
In the seven days following the transfer there were a total of 44 murders, averaging just over six a day. This constitutes a drop of 53 percent from the first 12 weeks of the year, according to El Faro.
Munguia called a news conference on Friday to deny El Faro's allegations. "I want the following statement to be loud and clear ... the government of the republic is not at any time negotiating with any gang," he declared.
He said that the only relation the government has with the gangs is through the operations they launch against these groups.
Munguia claimed that the prisoners were moved for three reasons. He said that Bishop·Fabio Colindres·had appealed for some to be transferred on humanitarian grounds; that the government had detected an escape plot to blow holes through the walls of the prison using anti-tank weapons purchased in Honduras; and that the prisoners had already served the required 10 percent of their sentences in maximum security jails.
InSight Crime Analysis
The minister's explanations for the transfer seem dubious. As El Faro reports, the bishop sent a Tweet after the speech that contradicted Munguia's words. "Monseñor Fabio Colindres says that he advocates, in general, on behalf of the prisoners of Zacatecoluca [the maximum security facility the prisoners were transferred from] and not on behalf of specific cases, as Minister Munguia Payes says."
The second part of his explanation also seems unlikely. If inmates had launched a credible escape plot that involved shipping heavy weaponry from Honduras, it would seem like a bad idea to respond by moving them to lower security prisons.
The third point has also been questioned. La Prensa Grafica pointed out that 10 percent is the minimum, not the maximum, proportion of the sentence to be served in a maximum security facility, and asserted that some of the prisoners had not served this much of their sentence.
Another questionable point made by Munguia, when asked whether the transferred prisoners were bosses of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio-18, was that these gangs replace leaders who are sent to prison. This goes against much of what is known of the workings of these organizations, who use prisons as bases of operations, to regroup and recruit members. The government has previously said that 80 percent of all extortion cases are operated from El Salvador's prisons using cell phones. Indeed, in January deputy police chief Howard Cotto told the media that jailed gang bosses were masterminding a nationwide plot, instructing their subordinates on the outside to murder members of the security forces.
One reason that Munguia might be willing to negotiate with gang members, even against the stated policy of the government, is that he has staked his position on bringing the murder rate down by 30 percent. He took office in November, and promised that he would resign if he did not reach the target within a year. The first two months of 2012 saw a spike in murders, which Munguia attributed to a backlash against his tough anti-gang policies. Now, he is attributing March's drop in violence to these same policies, which include more police presence in gang areas.
However, Munguia's main innovation, a new anti-gang police unit, still has not come into effect. He said it would begin operations after Easter. By then, there will be more evidence to judge whether the cut in violence this month can be sustained.
Junior - March 24, 2012 11:07 PM (GMT)
'El Salvador Gangs Confirm Truce'
By Hannah Stone, InSight.com
Friday, March 23, 2012
Representatives of the rival MS-13 and Barrio-18 gangs in El Salvador have confirmed the existence of a truce between them, negotiated with the help of the Church.
Raul Mijango, a former congressman who says he acted as a mediator in talks between jailed leaders of the two groups, released a document Thursday written in the name of "the national spokespeople" of the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18.
The document says that the group does not "wish to keep making war," and that it has undertaken peace talks:
Since last year we have begun internally a deep process of reflection and analysis of the serious and pressing problems facing our country, of which we have been part, as a consequence of the war that we have been forced to fight due to social exclusion, marginalization, repression, and the need for survival...
We have not negotiated anything with this government, nor do we ask to, we are tired of corrupt and lying politicians ... that's why this time to accompany our process of reflection we preferred to ask for the assistance of the Church and civil society...
They have made it possible that after 20 years we have been able to reach an agreement between the two rival gangs where we have managed ... to significantly reduce the murders in the country, and, in a gesture of goodwill, to cancel all actions that include attacks against soldiers, police and guards.
The statement has criticism for website El Faro, which last week broke the story of a possible deal between the gangs and the government, saying it had made "perverse and false allegations." The website's sources said that the government had transferred 30 gang members to lower security prisons in exchange for a reduction in violence -- murders dropped by 53 percent in the week after the transfers, compared to the average in the first 12 months of the year. The existence of a deal was flatly denied by the government, which said its security policies were to thank for the reduction in crime, before a bishop announced days later that he had brokered a truce between the rival groups, with the knowledge of the government.
El Diario de Hoy reports that on Thursday, after the document was released, it visited imprisoned gang members, including some of the leaders who were transferred. The newspaper says that all the pandilleros they spoke to, 25 from MS-13 and 18 from Barrio-18, confirmed that the document was genuine and reflected their policies. Representatives of both groups said they had not negotiated with the government, and were not seeking to do so.
InSight Crime Analysis
El Diario de Hoy presents strong evidence for the theory that the drop in violence is the result of an inter-gang truce rather than a government deal.
However, doubts remain. The government has not been able to adequately explain the transfer of the 30 imprisoned leaders, while prison director Nelson Rauda admitted to El Faro that the move had been part of a strategy to bring down violence, and said that the leaders' promise to lower violence had been "a factor" in the move. A former national police chief told media Tuesday that it was obvious that the transfer must have involved a negotiation with the authorities.
Junior - March 30, 2012 07:49 PM (GMT)
Govt-'Facilitated' Gang Truce in Salvador Sets Dangerous Regional Precedent
Written by Elyssa Pachico and Steven Dudley, InSight.com
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Despite President Mauricio Funes' denial that his government struck a deal with gang leaders to lower homicide rates in return for better prison conditions, it is now clear that someone in the government helped broker this truce setting what could be a dangerous precedent in government dealings with gangs regionwide.
"The government did not sit down to negotiate with gangs," President Funes said during a press conference this week. However, the president admitted that the government "accompanied" the process and "facilitated" the agreement, reportedly brokered between the Catholic Church and leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18.
Funes said the government's participation consisted of providing the trucks, guards, and helicopters needed to monitor the transfer the of prison leaders from a maximum security prison to several less-restrictive facilities.
He added that the transfers were "not illegal" and should not be defined as a concession to the MS-13 and Barrio 18, as the inmates did not receive "preferential treatment" at these new facilities.
Funes added that in the coming weeks, the government would form a commission of political, private sector, community, and Church leaders in order to define a new anti-gang strategy that would emphasize socio-economic solutions, rather than suppression. He cited Brazil's approach to reducing crime in the Rio de Janeiro favelas as an example.
Funes' statement is the latest in a wave of denials and non-denial-denials concerning the nature of the discussions with MS-13 and Barrio 18. El Faro first reported in early March that the prison leaders were transferred because the Security Ministry struck a deal with them.
The New York Times appeared to confirm this account, reporting that security and intelligence officials had discussed making such a pact prior to the prison transfer. In the days that followed, El Salvador's homicide rate dropped significantly, reportedly from an average of 14 a day to just five.
But then the Church stepped forward and said they were responsible for negotiating a truce between the MS-13 and Barrio 18, which several gang leaders appeared to confirm.
By Funes' account, the government was aware that the Church was carrying out negotiations, but other than allowing for the transfer between prison facilities, the involvement of the Security Ministry stopped there.
But other questions remain, including whether the government granted other concessions or may have even paid the MS-13 and Barrio 18. The Church insists that the truce was brokered without conditions. And Funes said that the prison transfer was necessary in order for the gang leaders to communicate with their subordinates, so they could disseminate the order that gang killings must be halted. Such communication would not have been possible within a maximum security facility, he said.
As El Faro points out, the government's approval of the prison transfer is something of a paradox. The security strategy previously favored by Defense Minister David Munguia focuses on breaking up communication between the top command of the MS-13, Barrio 18, and their junior commanders. But in order to facilitate a cease in homicides, it was necessary to make this communication easier, not harder, to take place.
The other contradiction is that even as Funes denies any involvement in facilitating the drop in homicides, he was all too ready to take credit for it, El Faro notes. Notably, Security Minister Munguia had previously stated that unless homicide rates dropped 30 percent after a year he spent on the job, he would resign.
The question facing Funes now is whether the gang truce will hold, and how much his political reputation may now depend on it. Truces between gangs usually lead to a temporary drop in violence, but they are difficult to sustain or to transform into more long-lasting agreements. In 2010, several community leaders brokered a truce between warring factions of the city mafia in Medellin, Colombia. Like El Salvador's case, murders dropped precipitously for several weeks. But the deal eventually disintegrated and homicide rates again began to climb.
In addition, brokering deals with gangs sets a dangerous precedent. The gangs, emboldened by their political power, may seek to further upset the delicate balance between justice and peace by demanding more concessions. And gangs in other countries may seek similar deals. The Machiavellian amongst these gang leaders could even take it in the other direction, threatening to increase homicides on a widespread scale just prior to elections, for instance, in order to gain a more favorable position at the negotiating table.
Funes should understand this well. His political party, the former guerrilla umbrella group known as the FMLN, played this game of brinkmanship with the government for years before signing a peace accord in the early 1990s. And for some monitoring El Salvador, this balance may have already tilted too far in the favor gangs.
In the end, regardless of Funes' public hair-splitting, the narrative of this case is solidifying around the notion that the government was involved in a deal. As such, Funes' next challenge will be to convince Salvadorans that the trade-off in peace is worth the steep price justice.
Junior - April 3, 2012 01:23 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Soldiers Accused of Selling Weapons to Guatemalan, Honduran Gangs
Written by Geoffrey Ramsey, InSight.com, Monday, April 2, 2012
Prosecutors in El Salvador ordered the arrest of eight soldiers and one civilian linked to an arms trafficking network that may have supplied thousands of weapons to drug gangs in Guatemala and Honduras.
On March 30, the office of El Salvador’s Attorney General (FGR) ordered the arrest of the nine suspects, alleging that they had participated in a scheme which involved siphoning off weapons that were slated to be destroyed, and selling them to drug trafficking organizations.
Six of the men have already been convicted in a military court of stealing 1,800 grenades with the intention of passing them on to drug cartels. However, Salvadoran officials now suspect these men, plus three others, had already conducted illicit sales. According to court documents, the group may have sold more than 10,000 grenades and several anti-tank rocket launchers.
According to La Prensa Grafica, six of the soldiers involved were already in custody following their conviction, and the other two were arrested. The civilian has not yet been apprehended.
Julio Arriaza, director of the FGR’s Social Interests section, told reporters that his office is investigating the whereabouts of these weapons, and added that they may have been sold to the Zetas in Guatemala and to Honduran drug trafficking groups.
InSight Crime Analysis
One of the most alarming aspects of the case is the fact that two of the men were officers. This is troublesome given the Salvadoran government’s increased reliance on the military for internal security.
The military arsenals of Central America are a significant supply of arms for Mexican drug cartels, and some calculate that they are a more important source of weapons than gun stores in the United States. Members of the Guatemalan and Honduran militaries have also been accused of transferring guns to cartels. This is an especially dangerous trend, as the kinds of weapons that drug gangs can gain access to from militaries are far superior to those that can be bought or stolen from local police forces.
Junior - April 12, 2012 07:53 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Gang Truce Expanded to Address Extortion
Written by Tatiana Faramarzi, InSight.com
Thursday, April 12, 2012
El Salvador’s involvement in a truce between the country’s two major street gangs has grown, with the government now pursuing a reduction in gang extortion in addition to homicides.
Although the daily homicide rate has declined sharply since 30 leaders of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs were transported to a more relaxed prison facility in March, reports of extortion have continued and even risen in some departments, according to the country's Attorney General. Transportation unions in particular have reported an increase in the monetary losses incurred by gang extortions.
Straying from prior denials of government involvement in the negotiations, La Prensa Grafica reports that Justice and Security Minister David Munguia Payes (pictured) has stated that “the government cannot sit down to negotiate with criminal groups, but if other institutions do, we will facilitate the dialogue.” The Church and former congressman Raul Mijango have already initiated efforts to negotiate a reduction in extortions with the gangs.
Munguia claimed that he is unsure of what the gang leaders will ask for in exchange for a reduction in extortions, but the government is prepared to do whatever is necessary to facilitate a dialogue, so long as concessions remain within the scope of the law. Currently, the government is considering some “gestures of goodwill” that gang leaders have requested, such as allowing imprisoned gangsters to be visited by their children, or lengthening the allowed visit time.
According to the minister, all the dialogue can do is “create opportunities.” If negotiations through Mijango and the Church are fruitless, the government will be forced to explore other options. However, he is convinced that the reduction in homicides that resulted from the truce can only be followed by a reduction in extortion, auto theft, and illicit arms acquisition.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Salvadoran government’s continued facilitation of the discussion between the Church and the country’s two largest street gangs points to the state’s deepening investment in the deal. The consideration of new concessions to curtail gang extortion also sheds light on the leverage that the gangs have in the negotiations.
Minister Munguia appears confident that dialogue between the Church and the gang leaders will lead to the decline of several criminal activities, but brokering a truce between two gangs at war is very different from convincing the groups to cease the activities that dictate their way of life. Each of the myriad illicit activities that Salvadoran gangs engage in may require new government concessions.
As Insight has suggested, inadvertently delegating this kind of political power to gangs could compromise the justice system, as well as any peace that has already resulted from the negotiations.
Junior - April 26, 2012 08:30 PM (GMT)
Anti-Gang Unit Begins Operations in El Salvador
Written by Hannah Stone, InSight
Thursday, April 26, 2012
An elite police unit dedicated to dismantling "mara" street gangs has begun operations in San Salvador, as a drop in killings appears to show that gangs are behind the majority of violence in the country.
On Wednesday, President Mauricio Funes officially launched the new anti-gang force. Its 302 officers, supported by another 150 officers from other units, have begun patrols on the streets of the capital city.
Last week the unit's members graduated from a specialized course in intelligence, tactics, investigative techniques and in the communicative patterns of gangs. There are plans for the officers to receive further training from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
However, the unit will not receive extra pay, unlike other elite units which get a monthly bonus of up to $240, according to Security Minister David Munguia Payes.
Pedro Gonzalez, the head of the new unit, said 68 of the officers would be assigned to intelligence work, 60 to investigations, and the remaining 174 to "anti-gang interventions." They will·also operate a call center for the public to phone in tips on gang activity.
Munguia said the government hoped to extend the scheme to five provinces that between them see three-quarters of all murders in El Salvador.
InSight Crime Analysis
The specialized anti-gang unit is part of a new security policy being rolled out by the administration of Mauricio Funes. Most notably, the government "facilitated" the brokering of a truce between the country's two biggest gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, which has been followed by a drop in killings of almost 60 percent. The government has also proposed measures including work schemes to help former gang members reintegrate into society, a curfew on young people, and legal reform to help prosecutions move faster with the aim of putting more gang members in prison.
The need for a specialized police unit is emphasized by new evidence that the gangs have been responsible for a large majority of all killings in El Salvador. The fact that murders have dropped by almost 60 percent since the truce would appear to prove that gangs were behind most violence. Before the truce, Munguia asserted that 90 percent of homicides were the work of gangs, a figure questioned by analysts including InSight Crime. However, it now seems that the minister's assertion may have been closer to the truth than the estimates of some police officials, who put the proportion at 30 to 35 percent.
However, Fespad, a non-governmental organization that works with gangs, said that it still is not convinced the gangs were responsible for such a high proportion of killings. "It's true that it has surprised us that the number of deaths has dropped so significantly," a representative told El Faro, saying "We suspect that the agreements included criminal structures separate from the gangs."
Junior - May 1, 2012 06:25 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Sees Almost 60% Drop in Murders in April, As Gang Truce Holds
Written by Hannah Stone, InSight.com, Tuesday, May 1, 2012
El Salvador saw an average of five murders a day in April, according to police statistics, down 58 percent from the same month last year, as a ceasefire between rival gangs apparently continues to hold.
Killings in El Salvador sharply declined from March 9. Before this date, the average for 2012 stood at 13 to 14 murders a day, representing a drop of more than 60 percent.
In the days leading up to March 9, the authorities moved some 30 gang leaders to lower security prisons, followed by an immediate decline in killings. News website El Faro reported that the transfer was part of a deal between the government and the gang leaders to cut violence, which was quickly denied by the authorities. Days later, Bishop Fabio Colindres came forward to say that the Church had negotiated a truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, but had not offered any concessions to the gangs. According to the official account, the transfers were made to allow the leaders to more easily communicate the order to halt killings to their subordinates on the outside.
After the announcement of April's figures, Security Minister David Munguia Payes said that the truce had contributed to the decrease in murders, but the government's security strategy was the primary reason why violence is falling, reports La Prensa Grafica.
InSight Crime Analysis
Munguia has been reluctant to place too much emphasis on the ceasefire agreement, pointing out that "real results" against crime will come only as part of concerted government actions. These include a specialized anti-gang police unit made up of more than 300 officers which began operations last week, schemes to provide work for former gang members, and legal reform to make it easier for the authorities to prosecute and jail gang members.
The minister also argues that around half of the current killings are still carried out by gangs, explaining that the MS-13 and Barrio 18 still suffer from internal dissent, and that there are other gangs who have not been included in the truce.
He is right that the truce will need to be reinforced with broader measures -- its brokers have given no guarantees for how long the ceasefire will last, and killings could in theory resume at any moment. However, it appears that the reduction in murders to date is likely due almost entirely to the agreement, given that the other measures are all longer-terms projects that will take some time to have an impact.
Indeed, in a recent interview with La Prensa Grafica, the minister said that he expected to see results from the new police unit within six months. He said that within a month the unit would be expanded to 450 officers, including a section dedicated to intelligence and investigative work.
Munguia also said that the legal reforms they are currently working on include a provision for the authorities to declare targeted states of emergency. "The authorities should be provided with better tools," he said "What we have in El Salvador is not common crime, we are talking about well organized structures."
According to Munguia, there are some 60,000 gang members in the country, operating in half of all municipalities.
Junior - May 28, 2012 09:00 PM (GMT)
Secretive El Savador Drug Cartel Targeted in Rare Arrest
Written by Elyssa Pachico, InSight.com
Monday, May 28, 2012
Police have arrested a leader of one of El Salvador's most powerful drug smuggling networks, the little-known Texis Cartel, which could signal the end of the group's ability to operate with scant attention from law enforcement.
Jose Misael Cisneros Rodriguez, alias "Medio Millon," was arrested in the northern Chalatenango province. He is being held on homicide charges, although police said that they had evidence of his involvement in drug trafficking, money laundering, and supplying weapons to a branch of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang known as the Fulton Loco Salvatruchas.
Medio Million reportedly controlled an armed group of some 200 armed men that formed part of the Texis Cartel network. A loose association of powerful business and political leaders based in Chalatenango, the Texis Cartel is one of the primary movers of cocaine from northern El Salvador into Honduras, working with whatever criminal group pays them the highest price.
Like the other individuals who make up the Texis Cartel, Medio Millon reportedly had links to the local government and security forces. The fact that Medio Millon was caught while in a vehicle parked near a police station in the town of Nueva Concepcion also raises questions over why one of El Salvador's most wanted men, who had already escaped capture several times, chose to seek refuge close to law enforcement. One police source told El Faro that Medio Million had come to the police station "to do business." Previous attempts to capture the alleged trafficker failed thanks to his informants within the police force, according to El Faro.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is one of the first reported arrests of a high-ranking member of the Texis Cartel network. The organization has been identified as a prominent trafficking group by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Medio Millon's activities have been tracked by the US agency for the past four years, according to reports. The capture is a sign that Salvadoran authorities may now be setting their sights on the Texis Cartel, a low-profile network that has attracted little attention from law enforcement thanks to its preference for bribing public officials rather than using violence.
Medio Millon was something of an anomaly within the Texis Cartel. He surrounded himself with armed bodyguards, in contrast to one of the cartel's founding members, Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, who reportedly discourages the use of weapons. By hiring the Fulton Loco Salvatruchas to act as enforcers and assassins for his drug network, Medio Millon demonstrated his willingness to rely on violent tactics.
His arrest is a signal to other members of the Texis network that El Salvador's law enforcement is now willing to move against them, despite their links to local power networks in Chalatenango. As La Prensa Grafica reports, a police intelligence briefing says that Medio Millon and his family -- officially dedicated to ranching and agriculture -- have "a large network of friends in public institutions." The Cisneros family and the other heads of the Texis Cartel will likely make use of this network to stall or throw off other investigations into their activities.
Junior - June 11, 2012 09:16 PM (GMT)
Salvadoran 'Maras' Infiltrating Belize?
By Christopher Looft, InSight
Monday, June 11, 2012
El Salvador's "mara" gangs may be moving into Belize, according to reports, with both the MS-13 and Barrio 18 having a presence in the capital of the tiny Caribbean country.
According to a report by La Prensa Grafica, El Salvador's maras have increased their presence in Belize over the last decade. The article cited police reports which say that El Salvador's two largest gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, have a presence in the country's capital, Belmopan. Other police reports suggest that in the district of Cayo, where Belmopan is located, an unnamed Salvadoran gang with 400 members operates with impunity. There is a large Salvadoran community in Belize -- the Foreign Ministry estimates that around a fifth of the 315,000 or so people living in the country are Salvadoran citizens, according to the newspaper.
One reason for the growth in gang activity in Belize could be the use of the free economic zone in Corozal, close to the Mexican border, for contraband smuggling. Another report by Prensa Grafica detailed the rise in smuggling of goods bought in this zone, which are illegally taken into Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico.
InSight Crime Analysis
The reports of increased presence of Salvadoran gangs in Belize lack detail, but could be a worrying sign for the authorities. El Salvador had one of the highest murder rates in the world last year, at 72 per 100,000, which the government blames largely on gang violence.
Belize also has local gangs. A truce made between 13 gangs in Belize City last year brought a sharp reduction in violence, but now appears to be fracturing.
Last year, the White House placed Belize on a watch list of countries involved in the international drug trade. The murder rate has climbed to about 40 per 100,000 people, outstripping Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica, which all have rates of below 25, and edging past Guatemala, which had an estimated 38 last year.
The Corozal free economic zone seems to have prompted smugglers to take advantage of its cheap prices to make a profit, which could open the door for more serious organized criminal activity. There is precedent for this: Paraguay's Ciudad del Este, in the tri-border area of Brazil and Argentina, is both a cheap retail destination (due largely to the availability of smuggled and counterfeit goods) and a key hub of drug, arms and human trafficking.
Junior - June 18, 2012 10:48 PM (GMT)
'El Salvador Police Use Uniforms to Distinguish Jailed Members of Rival Gangs'
Written by Christopher Looft, InSight.com, Monday, June 18, 2012
Police in one San Salvador municipality have reportedly responded to overcrowding by asking detained members of the country's two largest gangs to wear different uniforms, an attempt to create stability that may have the unintended consequence of strengthening gangs.
Police of the Soyapango municipality have informed the families of the inmates in holding cells there that they may bring the inmates colored clothing: yellow for members of one gang, white for the other, said a police source, according to La Prensa Grafica.
This is a response to overcrowding and escape attempts in the facility, which is running at 300 percent over capacity. Prisoners are only meant to be held there for 72 hours, but 80 percent of detainees have already passed this mark, reported the newspaper.
Authorities have also reportedly stepped up searches, in order to stop detainees holding illicit objects that could be used in escape attempts or to commit crimes inside the facilities.
InSight Crime Analysis
The "mano dura," or "iron fist" policy of mass arrests of suspected gang members, introduced in 2003, resulted in a surge in the population of Salvador's prisons. This threw gang members in together, allowing them to regroup and get more organized. Forcing together members of rival groups the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 led to increased violence.
This led authorities to separate the two gangs from one another inside some prisons, which in turn intensified the process of regrouping, as the gangs were safer and had more time to focus on expanding their activities, building nationwide extortion networks. Members of the two gangs are now sent to separate prisons, according to a 2010 InSight Crime investigation. Meanwhile, El Salvador's murder rate doubled between 2003 and 2011.
The reported overcrowding in holding cells like that of Soyapango is the result of massive overcrowding in prisons, and judicial gridlock. Separating gangs in these facilities may actually make them stronger, as it did in prisons.
Junior - June 20, 2012 06:00 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Cracks Down on Drug Chemical Smuggling into Guatemala
Written by Geoffrey Ramsey, InSight.com, Wednesday, June 20, 2012
A network of companies in Guatemala and El Salvador are accused of serving as a front for a smuggling ring which brought 720 tons of precursor chemicals into Guatemala via its ports, illustrating the weakness of the country's maritime border controls.
Officials in El Salvador are investigating two Guatemalan and three Salvadoran companies for allegedly smuggling chemicals used for illicit drug production into Guatemala. According to elPeriodico, Salvadoran police believe the five companies are part of a network of front companies responsible for sending 720 tons of precursor chemicals into Guatemala since March 2011.
While there is no warrant for their arrest in Guatemala, police in El Salvador are searching for Salvadoran Gerardo Armando Villacorta Archila and Guatemalan Federico Alejandro Mora, believed to be leaders of the smuggling network.
InSight Crime Analysis
The rise of Mexican drug trafficking organizations in Guatemala has made the Central American country an important site for synthetic drug production. Indeed, the Sinaloa Cartel, believed to be a major contributor to this trend, may now be producing more methamphetamine in Guatemala than in Mexico, which has traditionally been considered the largest source of meth to the United States.
In 2011, Guatemala seized 1,600 tons of precursor chemicals, a 400 percent increase from the previous year. Authorities have seized so many precursor chemicals in recent months that police in some cities have run out of space to store them properly, sparking concerns over public safety.
According to Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez, Guatemala's main draw for synthetic drug producers is its lax port security. In a recent interview, Lopez told elPeriodico that this has to do with a lack of resources and equipment. Very few shipping containers are inspected by Guatemalan customs officials, and those that are must be examined manually because the country lacks the x-ray technology used by port authorities in wealthier nations.
Junior - June 20, 2012 06:02 PM (GMT)
El Salvador murders drop as gang truce passes 100 days
BBC News, June 20, 2012
Murders in El Salvador have dropped from about 14 a day in March to five, as a truce between the country's powerful street gangs passed 100 days.
Police said that overall this year killings had fallen nearly 24%, while murders in May were down by more than 50% on the same period last year.
The gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, agreed a halt to hostilities, in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church.
El Salvador's street gangs have a reputation for ruthless violence.
Announcing the latest crime figures, Justice and Public Security Minister David Munguia Payes said that the truce between the gangs "has had an important effect on the drop in violence".
The deal between the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS-13, and Barrio 18, came about after their leaders were moved from maximum security jails to more relaxed conditions.
President Mauricio Funes has stressed his government did not negotiate with the gangs but merely facilitated the accord.
Imprisoned gang members held ceremonies on 19 June to mark the first 100 days of the accord.
Gang leaders indicated they were ready for talks about making the peace pact permanent, the Associated Press reported.
"We want a definitive ceasefire," one leader, Oscar Armando Reyes, told AP. But he said the government had to come up with concrete proposals on jobs.
El Salvador's gangs have their roots in the immigrant street gangs of the US.
Over the years they have grown to become powerful, trans-national criminal organisations with thousands of members.
The truce has attracted the attention of neighbouring countries, Honduras and Guatemala, which also suffer high murder rates and gang violence.
Junior - June 24, 2012 05:43 PM (GMT)
El Salvador Takes Advantage of Truce to Pursue Street Gangs
By Christopher Looft, InSight, Friday, June 22, 2012
Authorities in El Salvador reported the arrest of 185 suspected gang members in the greater San Salvador area, despite a truce between rival gangs that has brought a significant reduction in violence.
The military, attorney general's office and police, including members of a newly launched anti-gang unit, took part in the "mega-operation," which aimed to capture 200 gang members, reported La Prensa Grafica.
In the municipality of Soyapango, one of the groups broken up was linked to the slaying of three police officers, one of whom was dismembered. In this case, the investigation took more than three months, and police said it resulted in the capture of three gang leaders.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrests come just after a truce between two rival gangs to cut murders and cease attacks on the security forces reached its 100-day mark. This has brought large security gains, with murders down 46 percent for the three months the truce has been in effect, compared to the same period in 2011, according to police numbers. The government has repeatedly tried to play down expectations of the truce, saying that it will not end gang violence. In April, Security Minister David Munguia said that some 50 percent of murders in the previous month were gang-related. He has emphasized that lasting security gains will have to come through the efforts of the security forces, not just an agreement on the part of the gang leaders.
Despite the steep drop in homicides during the first hundred days of the truce, the government has remained on the offensive against the gangs, in this case deploying its new anti-gang police unit, which focuses on intelligence gathering and community tips, and stating it will not negotiate concessions for the gangs. Vice Security Minister Douglas Moreno (see picture), who was in Washington this week to secure financing for a jobs program to employ former gang members, said authorities will not negotiate with gangs.
The two groups involved in the truce -- the MS-13 and Barrio 18 -- have not agreed to stop extortion, despite interest by the church and the government. Munguia has said that this is because so many of the members and their families make their living from the practice, and while police numbers on extortion are to be down since last year for the first half of June, PNC sub-director Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde credited police enforcement, not a gang truce, for the decline, La Prensa Grafica reported.
Junior - June 27, 2012 07:47 PM (GMT)
Investigations in El Salvador, Guatemala Reveal Thriving Trade in Precursor Chemicals
Written by Elyssa Pachico, InSight.com, Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Police in El Salvador and Guatemala are investigating more than a dozen front companies that smuggled tons of precursor chemicals used in methamphetamine production from Asia, highlighting a thriving, yet rarely visible trade.
According to an investigation by Guatemalan newspaper ElPeriodico, about a quarter of the precursor chemicals imported into the country last year, some 2,765 barrels, was handled by just 14 companies. And 10 of those companies exist only on paper.
One company, Importadora El Porvenir, is supposedly an importer of furniture, vehicles, and new and used tires. But in July 2011, the company imported 14 containers of polyether polyol, used as a precursor for synthetic drugs, from China. And according to company papers, the owner is an illiterate 19-year-old, ElPeriodico reports.
Another company, Quilimaco Importers, is a supposed pesticide importer. But the company brought in 80 barrels of voranol last year, a precursor chemical for amphetamines and meth. Quilimaco falsified its business license, as did Barnices Españoles, S. A., which also imported 80 barrels of precursor chemicals from Shanghai last year.
Authorities found links between all three front companies, which collaborated in making purchases together. Together, the three were responsible for bringing in 1,280 barrels of precursor chemicals into Guatemala last year. But as ElPeriodico’s investigation found, none of these companies even have offices, and the company address listed in their official documentation leads to empty warehouses.
Another two Guatemala-based companies, Discovery Distributors and Consolidated Royal, clearly show another pattern in the precursor smuggling trade. Both have links to front companies that appear to have been established in El Salvador solely for the purpose of illicitly smuggling precursor chemicals.
Discovery Distributors’ official address is in a low-income neighborhood in Guatemala City, in a house where an evangelical pastor lives with his family. The company is officially involved in importing clothes.
According to ElPeriodico, Discovery’s actual business involved using a front company based in El Salvador, Santa Ana Exporters and Importers, to smuggle precursor chemicals through the Acajutla sea port. When port authorities conducted an inspection in May 2011, they found that even though Santa Ana Exporters declared that it was importing benzyl salicylate, a legal chemical, it was actually importing ethyl phenylacetate, a chemical that requires special inspection when entering the country, as it is used for methamphetamine production.
In March 2011, El Salvadoran authorities received a tip-off that another local import company, Bodeguitas, was soon set to receive an importation of precursor chemicals that would end up in methamphetamine labs in Guatemala. A subsequent investigation found that three El Salvadoran companies, Santa Ana Exporters and Importers, Bodeguitas, and another company, Galaxias, were all in involved in the precursor trade and acted as intermediaries for companies based in Guatemala. Santa Ana Exporters was an intermediary for Guatemalan company Discovery Distributors, while Bodeguitas was an intermediary for Guatemalan company Consolidated Royal.
ElPeriodico’s investigation illustrates just how difficult it is to control the precursor chemical trade. With the right paperwork, smugglers can gain business licenses needed to set up front companies, which can import hundreds of barrels of chemicals without triggering off the authorities. The three El Salvadoran companies, Santa Ana, Bodeguitas, and Galaxias, at the very minimum were able to collectively import 190 tons, or 720 barrels, of ethyl phenylacetate, which authorities seized in the Acajutla sea port during April and June 2011, reports La Prensa Grafica.
Guatemala's precursor chemical trade is growing as methamphetamine production rises inside the country. Guatemala seized four times as many precursor chemicals in 2011 than in 2010. Many of the methamphetamine laboratories inside the country are thought to be controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel.
The meth production and precursor chemical import trade appears to have shifted, in part, to Guatemala, thanks to greater controls over precursor chemicals enforced in Mexico. But as ElPeriodico's investigation highlights, with just a couple of fake addresses and approved business licenses, it is all too easy for smugglers to set up a precursor smuggling ring that stretches from Guatemala to El Salvador. No matter if greater controls over precursor chemicals are enforced in one country, the trade will easily "balloon" over into the neighboring one, so long as the business maintains a facade of legitimacy.
Junior - July 7, 2012 12:16 AM (GMT)
Using a Town Councilor to Get to the Texis Cartel
InSight.com, Friday, July 6, 2012
In the Salvadoran town of Metapan one of the country’s most elusive drug trafficking groups, the Texis Cartel, has co-opted local politics. El Faro reports on an undercover investigation against the organization that may go deeper than it first appeared.
Undercover agents Samuel and Adriel entered the offices to have the first conversation with the man that they intended to deceive. They knew that Jesus Sanabria was a man with debts, but on Friday, November 11, 2011, when they went to see him in Santa Ana at the administrative offices of his water park, Apuzunga, they didn’t know that he would open his mouth so quickly. Let’s call that Friday -- November 11, 2011 -- day one.
That same morning, the Anti-Narcotics Division (DAN) of the national police had authorized the agents to make the first contact with their target. Samuel and Adriel were adept. They arrived with the alibi of wanting to know the prices of Apuzunga’s services.
Soon, the agents were taking the conversation in a direction that let Sanabria know that they were brothers involved in business. In the judicial record of the case, the word “business,” is put in quotation marks.
The supposed brothers explained to Sanabria that they were moneylenders, usurers that lent money at a 5 percent monthly interest rate as long as the debtor had property that could be used as collateral. Samuel and Adriel knew that Sanabria was a businessman in financial distress. Sanabria, who might have picked up on a wink, took the conversation in a new direction:
"If in the future we do business, I am the type of person who never gets burnt," he told them.
Sanabria seemed to take confidence in the strangers and kept talking. He revealed to them that for some time he had been faring poorly in a big deal that could have meant big profits for him. This was a green light for the agents, as the businessman was only confirming their impression of him.
Samuel and Adriel took advantage of the opportunity to shift the tone of the conversation. They responded that they also did another very profitable type of business, albeit dangerous. On that point, one of them told him, winking: “If you don’t do it well, you end up either in prison or in the cemetery.” Sanabria took the bait.
"Look, brother, we are talking about the same thing," he said to the agents.
Then Samuel got straight to the point:
"How capable are you of doing this type of business?" he asked the agent.
"Look, brother. Lately my capacity to do business is at a maximum of 20 kilos, but it’s good quality powder."
After saying that, Sanabria smiled at Samuel, according to records of the conversation in the court file on the case.
Sanabria -- known as "Chus" -- is a stout, bald man whose face boasts a large mustache that recalls that of Pancho Villa, the famous hero of the Mexican Revolution. In fact, Sanabria himself resembles Pancho Villa not only in his mustache, but also in his face. In Metapan (pictured) he is known as the owner of Apuzunga, but above all, Chus is known because he was holding public office at the time he fell for Samuel and Adriel’s trick. Since the 2006 elections, Sanabria had been a Metapan town councilor from the National Conciliation Party (PCN) -- now the National Coordination (CN). Now, after his arrest thanks to the investigations of agents Samuel and Adriel, Sanabria is being tried for trying to sell five kilos of cocaine. However, that is the ending to a story that, up until now, had not been told.
Day one closed as a success for the agents. A councilor of a municipality where public security officials had been saying for more than a decade that a drug trafficking structure was located, had just offered them a good amount of cocaine. However, the negotiation, which aimed to unveil the upper hierarchy of the structure, the infiltration of state institutions and an area where cocaine trafficking is proliferating, had just begun.
The agents and Sanabria agreed to meet each other outside the office another day, and keep talking.
Sanabria Sets the Price
Almost a month later, on the afternoon of December 9 -- also a Friday -- the agents and Sanabria met in a bakery in the Metrocentro mall on the southern road out of Santa Ana.
The meeting took place in [bakery store] Bam Bam, and by then the councilor had already demonstrated his diligence, having gone through the process of obtaining the cocaine. The court file states that in those four weeks, Sanabria traveled to Costa Rica and Panama. “They offered him good prices,” wrote agent Samuel. Sanabria did not mention the names of his contacts in those countries, but it was very clear that he was a man in need of help to resolve his financial problems. He took a copy of the deeds to Apuzunga with him, and invited the agents to verify the document with a notary. The councilor remained interested in a loan from the two men who he believed to be loan sharks.
Samuel and Adriel did not give further details regarding the promise of the loan. That meeting, according to the record, ended with a clearly-defined business deal: Sanabria offered the price of $12,000 for each kilo of cocaine. Or rather, for each "little animal." Those were the words that the councilor used to refer to the packets of the drug. Mathematically, the price means that Sanabria was a man capable of moving a maximum quantity of $240,000 worth of cocaine, although he would end up offering just 5 kilos, or $60,000. The operation continued at a brisk pace.
The Invisible Partners of Councilman Sanabria
Day one had been a success, and the meeting in the Bam Bam bakery promised further revelations from Sanabria. Some minutes after midday on that Friday -- December 9, 2011 -- the second chat between councilor Sanabria and the undercover agents revealed more important clues about the cocaine trafficking network in El Salvador’s northwest. As soon as the conversation about the price of the “little animals” ended, the then-city official told them that he was not only in the business of selling the white powder.
The chance of access to other parts of the structure that offered good quality cocaine was a revelation that the investigators set out in a report that day. The document stated: “Together with his brother and others from Metapan they are associated with, they can hand them over (the packets of drugs).” Sanabria did not give the names or descriptions of the people involved, but the thread of the investigation in the following two months went as far as involving contacts in Guatemala and in the Salvadoran police.
In the next two months, the investigators’ fieldwork allowed them to sketch a profile of Sanabria’s colleagues. In light of a third conversation between Sanabria and the undercover agents, the councilor’s associates emerge as the owners of mansions -- places of luxury where you can make cocaine deals without hitches.
That information came out in a meeting that took place at 11:15 in the morning of Saturday, January 7 -- almost two months on from day one. The undercover police were stationed two blocks from Los Roros, a restaurant located at the edge of the Santa Ana Metrocentro, in the Loma Linda neighborhood. Sanabria arrived in a Mitsubishi vehicle, accompanied by a big, dark man with black, curly hair: 32-year-old Edgar Aquileo Lopez Matute, alias “El Negro.”
“El Negro” is a resident of Conchagua, a small settlement made up of a handful of modest homes in the Las Piedras subdivision, in Metapan, where Sanabria has his Apuzunga water park. In front of the undercover agents the councilor presented “El Negro” as his right-hand man. He explained that the man would participate in the sale of a small sample of the drug, intended to convince the buyers that it was a good quality product. The councilor proposed to do the transaction in a private place, but Samuel responded cautiously, declining the proposition. He feared for his security.
"Don’t worry. It’s a mansion, my brother," responded Sanabria, trying to calm him.
Sanabria’s words did not convince the undercover cop, who insisted on looking for a more secure place for the deal because he was afraid of being ripped off.
"It doesn’t seem like a good idea because I don’t know who’s inside the house. What if you take my money?" was the agent’s excuse.
It was Sanabria who then proposed to carry out the transaction in a public place: the Los Arcos restaurant, about 2 kilometers from the town of Texistepeque.
"The place is appropriate and we won’t be noticed. I’ve already done this type of dealing in the restaurant," boasted Sanabria, and he added an advantage for his companion. "You will have more time to verify the product while I count the money."
Without further delays or preludes, the men agreed that the first transaction -- the sample of the good -- would be carried out four days later, on January 11. The undercover agents would bring $40 and Sanabria would give them a small baggie of cocaine. That would be the first step to a bigger deal. Sanabria was ready to sell, and the agents were ready to buy a few “little animals,” or “little cows” -- the terms that councilor Sanabria used to refer to kilos of the drug, according to police records.
"We are definitely going to do it, I already have the coke," announced Sanabria.
On the agreed day -- January 11, 2012 -- undercover agent Samuel received a phone call from “El Negro” at 11:00 in the morning. In that conversation, “El Negro” confirmed that they had the cocaine and were ready to present it in Los Arcos restaurant. Two months after day one, although they were still in the period of testing the product, the operation was showing how you can carry out a certain type of business in Metapan, how easy it is to get someone to move large quantities of drugs, how that municipality on the border with Guatemala is one of the country's trafficking Meccas.
They Fall into the Trap
At kilometer 85 of the highway toward the Anguiatu border with Guatemala, between the cities of Texistepeque and Metapan, there is a highway restaurant that beckons people to stop. It is called Los Arcos. Between the highway and restaurant there is a dirt path where about 20 cars can park. The little restaurant is just that: open with a couple of columns that hold up a roof, and wooden chairs and tables in three rows. At one end of the restaurant there is a small counter with three friendly women who attend to customers as fast as they can, distributing beers and small portions of meat or ceviche for a dollar. At the other end are a plasma television attached to the wall and a jukebox. In the area behind the restaurant, Los Arcos has a more private space. Between the restaurant and a solitary football field surrounded by mounds of dirt, Los Arcos has a small covered hallway. It’s simply pillars and a roof, a row of wooden tables and small palm trees that line the hallway. That was where the shootout occurred between the drug traffickers and the police.
On January 11 -- two months after day one -- undercover agents Samuel and Adriel confirmed that they were dealing with cocaine and not a scam. They had received a sample for $40. As the judicial record describes, Samuel and Adriel knew that they were dealing with dangerous people, and they wanted to minimize the risks. “They fear because their lives are in danger, because they already did business with active members of a drug trafficking network that operates on an international level,” states the document.
Twelve days passed. One of the agents had already received the call from El Negro Matute, Sanabria’s accomplice, but it wasn’t until midday when the councilor himself contacted the agent to confirm that that January 23 would be the day they would deal the “little animals.” Sanabria confirmed that he would send El Negro, and assured the agents that he was a man of complete confidence. “I will be in contact with him,” he said. Then insisted that all was ready -- the claim of a drug trafficker who hopes that a deal doesn’t fall through once again.
"The little cows are already in the corral. There are five cows. You aren’t going to fail me. You aren’t going to fail me, it’s high quality product," said Sanabria over the phone.
That afternoon, seven men led by El Negro arrived at Los Arcos in a green Land Cruiser truck, a gray Nissan pick up, a black Honda vehicle and a gray Honda motorcycle. They sat in the most private area of the restaurant. A black bag was produced from the red pick up. Minutes later it was proved to contain five rectangular packages. Shortly after, a police operation headed by Adriel and Samuel arrived with the call: “Stop! Police!”
One of the councilor’s accomplices, Carlos Amaya, was the first to react. The report only says that he took out a gun and shot directly at the two undercover agents carrying the bag. The agents had better aim and hit Amaya on the left leg. Another of the dealers, Alberto Barrios Mauris, was holding an Uzi submachine gun, but chose not to confront the dozens of policemen headed by Samuel and Adriel, and threw it in the back of one of the trucks.
The court file gives no further details about the shootout, but one witness states that the criminals put up a fight. It wasn't just Amaya’s attacking, but a prolonged exchange of fire. The drama continued even after the attack ended when, at sunset, the lights went out in the Los Arcos restaurant, and for a moment the police thought that they had lost control of the area. The source says that once they were able to subdue Sanabria’s seven men, the officers beat a hasty retreat. The police and prosecutors were afraid that reinforcements would arrive to back up the criminals.
When authorities verified the identities of the seven detainees, they found further proof that they were dealing with a criminal structure that had permeated state institutions. One of those arrested was police Sergeant Amaldis Alcindo Ramirez Vargas, who was posted in a key location: the border crossing at Anguiatu [to Guatemala]. “Migration controls are a line that we are investigating. It’s an important link in the case: establishing the ties between the exits and entries of these people (towards Guatemala) when the agent (Ramirez Vargas) was working, in order to determine whether he facilitated the inflow of substances or the movements of these criminals,” said Jorge Cortez, explaining the importance of the sergeant’s detention.
On January 24 -- the day after the shootout -- the content of the five packets that the arrested men were carrying in Los Arcos was tested with cobalt thiocyanate, a reactive chemical that goes blue in contact with cocaine. This time, it turned blue.
That same day, at 11:00 in the morning in the El Calvario neighborhood of Metapan, the police detained the leader of the operation, Councilor Jesus Sanabria. The police hadn’t stopped following him so that he wouldn’t have the chance to escape. Seventy-four days after day one, the man who the agents tricked in the Apuzunga offices was in handcuffs.
One part of the tangle was solved with the capture of the seven criminals on January 23 and the councilor’s capture on the following day. However, the Attorney General’s Office and the police know that the detained criminals are only a small piece of the network. That’s why they handle the investigation with high secrecy in order to determine who Sanabria’s associates were.
When at the end of May we asked the Sub-Director General of the police, Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde, if the police intended to continue the investigation, he would not give out any information. But he said that inquiry that ended in the operation was only “initial": “That I cannot answer, it would be a serious transgression. An initial investigation is reserved.”
The prosecution coordinator Alexis Alaya, minutes after giving a press conference about the captures, hinted at his institution’s intentions: “I can only give you details about those who have already been detained. With the rest, the investigation will continue, and the information will be made public in its own time.”
For obvious reasons, the authorities won’t comment on anything related to whether or not the investigations will continue, or if they will attempt to climb from Metapan’s mafia towards the leaders of the Texis Cartel. It is only known that Samuel and Adriel were taken off the case for their security. They completed their mission and they know that they’ve put their heads in the lion’s mouth. As the record states, and it is worth emphasizing: “They did business with active members of a drug trafficking organization that operates at the international level.”
Junior - July 14, 2012 09:22 PM (GMT)
Gangs Threaten Salvadorans Living in US
Fox News Latino, July 13, 2012
The Salvadoran government recently introduced a program that allows citizens of the Central American nation who live in the United States to report crimes that occurred in their home nation.
The program, known as Denuncia Express ("Express Complaint"), was set up to deal with widespread extortion attempts by El Salvador’s violent street gangs, who threaten to harm family members of Salvadorans living in the U.S. if they don’t send money to gangs in El Salvador.
Started back in December of 2010 in Washington D.C., the Salvadoran government plans to expand the program in the U.S. Under the Express Complaint, Salvadorans speak confidentially to a police representative attached to El Salvador’s diplomatic mission and the rep reports back to police in the country about crimes originating in the Central American nation.
“To date 181 cases have been handled, and this has resulted in 38 arrest warrants, of which 31 are in the hands of justice and other cases are in the process," said El Salvador’s ambassador to the U.S. Francisco Altschul, according to Salvadoran tabloid La Prensa Grafica.
Altschul added that part of the success of the project is the privacy and confidentiality in which the Salvadoran representative handles the cases.
In one case, the information given to Salvadoran officials led to an extortion job in a prison in the Salvadoran city of Usulután and executed by former inmates.
“We are facilitators of the acquisition of information,” said Salvadoran police Commissioner Chávez Valiente.
While a truce between the country’s two main gangs has effectively cut the country’s soaring murder rate in half since March of this year, the country still remains rife with violence and extortion. The United Nations reported in February of this year that El Salvador had 66 murders per 100,000 people.
The gangs also use extortion as a vital source of income.
Gang members have been known to target Salvadorans with family members living in the U.S. or force people with family members in prison to wire money to U.S.-based gang members.
“These cases are particularly difficult for authorities to crack, due to their transnational nature and the fact that US victims are often undocumented and so may be reluctant to report the crime,” wrote Christopher Looft of Insight Crime.
Both of El Salvador’s largest gangs – Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 – originated in Los Angeles' immigrant communities before spreading throughout Central America due to deportations. Both gangs have also moved across the United and have a large presence in the Washington D.C.’s Salvadoran community.
“It's one of the most violent street gangs in the country,” wrote the Washington Examiner about MS-13. “They're the largest of the dozens of street gangs in the D.C. region, experts say, with at least 3,000 members and 100 separate "cliques."
Junior - July 15, 2012 03:56 PM (GMT)
Funes: Gang truce cut murders 52% in El Salvador since March
Fox News Latino, July 14, 2012
El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes said Saturday that the "truce" among street gangs that took effect last March "has had results," since homicides have dropped 52 percent since then.
During the debut of his radio program "Talking with the President," he said that with the truce in force between March and June there were 694 homicides, 52 percent less than the 1,448 racked up in the same period last year.
He said that before the truce there were 14 homicides a day around the country but that the daily average has now dropped to "four deaths."
During the first six months of this year there were 1,562 homicides, 552 less than the 2,114 recorded during the same period last year.
He ruled out the possibility that some murders are being hidden by the gangs as "missing persons," as some in the country are saying.
"The number of missing persons has gone down something like 25 percent, or 107 fewer disappearances (during the first six months of this year), so it is in no way certain that many homicides are listed as missing persons - it's just not true," he said.
"The truce has had its results," he said, adding that the country cannot depend solely on the truce because all that does is create "a different scenario that allows the government to establish a national accord" in order to improve national security.
The Salvadoran government launched a national dialogue on May 2 aimed at reaching agreement with the different sectors of the country on how to allay insecurity.
The Organization of American States, or OAS, made a commitment recently to keep watch on adherence to the truce.
"The OAS is committed to this process," which began last March with the truce and for which this organization will be the "guarantor," the secretary general of that organization, Jose Miguel Insulza, said on a two-day visit to this Central American country on July 12-13.
The OAS will say "clearly and frankly what is going right and what is going wrong, what has made progress and what hasn't," he said.
During his first radio program, which will broadcast every Saturday, Funes tackled different subjects of national interest and answered calls from Salvadoran citizens pre-recorded on a cost-free line, which unfortunately had technical problems at airtime.
The one-hour program was broadcast live from the presidential residence on state-run Radio Nacional and was transmitted by 30 radio stations around the country, an official communique said.
The secretary of communications for the presidency, David Rivas, said how pleased he was at the huge audience that tuned in to the first edition of the program and at its impact on social networks, where it quickly became one of the hottest topics in El Salvador, according to the bulletin, in which the secretary also apologized for the technical problems that had arisen.
Junior - July 26, 2012 05:48 PM (GMT)
Did MS-13 Train Mexican Cartels in Violent Tactics?
By Geoffrey Ramsey, InSight, Thurs, July 26, 2012
Mexican authorities have asserted that some of the most infamous drug cartels in the country picked up their violent tactics from a Salvadoran street gang, a dubious claim that may prove to be politically motivated.
On Juy 22, Excelsior reported that, according to officials from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR), two of the country’s most “dangerous and sadistic” drug cartels -- the Zetas and the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) -- had received training from Central America’s notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). The paper claims that in the PGR’s response to a public information request, officials maintained that the gang instructed elements of the two cartels in ultraviolent acts like beheadings and mutilations in a bid to help them “terrorize” their rivals. This had resulted in over 5,000 cases involving decapitation and/or dismemberment between 2007 and September 2011.
The report comes amid heightened concern over the street gang’s seemingly rising profile. In March the MS-13 joined its rival gang, Barrio 18, in announcing a bilateral cease fire·in El Salvador, a development which has some analysts worried that both groups are seeking to develop into more mature, organized criminal outfits.
Still, the suggestion that the Zetas and BLO received direct training from the MS-13 is highly questionable. To the extent that Mexican cartels have worked with them at all, existing evidence suggests that the relationship has worked the other way around, with the Mexicans instructing the street gang in larger-scale operations.
In April, for example, officials in Guatemala told the AP that the Zetas had incorporated Guatemalan MS-13 members into their ranks, sending as many as 18 to a training camp in Veracruz, Mexico. After their training the men were allegedly sent back to establish a Zetas-affiliated kidnapping ring in the Central American country.
Yet it should be noted that the very notion of significant contact between the Zetas and “maras” is in itself controversial. As InSight Crime reported at the time, the Zetas/MS-13 story was marked by several factual inconsistencies, and did not seem to match up with the general profile of the Zetas’ operations.
Even if there were evidence of such a relationship, and the MS-13 provided cartel members with direct instruction on methods of violent intimidation (here one imagines the gang delivering grisly workshops on beheading and mutilation techniques), this was probably not organized with the approval of the cartels’ leadership. Both the BLO and Zetas are, after all, motivated by profit. Because media coverage of Mexico’s drug war tends to focus on violent incidents like beheadings and tortures in isolation, it is easy to overlook the fact that these acts are committed with the end goal of acquiring a greater share of the drug market.
In effect, this means that cartel leaders have a strong motivation to limit such bloodshed. They understand that when used selectively, theatrical violence can be an effective intimidation tool against their rivals, but in excess it sparks public outrage and invites a law enforcement crackdown, which is undeniably “bad for business.” Considering this motivation, it seems unlikely that BLO and Zetas heads would seek to model the work of the MS-13, which is not known for its discretion.
The reasoning behind this bizarre and most likely false assertion is unclear. Excelsior does not explicitly name any PGR officials as a source, much less current Attorney General Marisela Morales. Still, the remark’s timing -- just three weeks after a presidential election -- suggests that it may have been politically motivated.
President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto has said he will take a different approach to combating organized crime than current President Felipe Calderon, vowing to prioritize a reduction in local drug-related violence over the capture of high-level cartel leaders when he takes office in December. As such, the PGR’s claim may have been designed in anticipation of this shift.
The recasting of much of the country’s recent drug violence as “un-Mexican” definitely favors Peña Nieto, as it moves the current debate away from the power on domestic drug cartels and towards a broader discussion of excess violence. In another apparent overture to the president-elect’s proposed change in focus, Attorney General Morales herself stressed on July 23 that local small-time drug dealing, as opposed to transnational trafficking, is a major contributor to violence in the country.
However, while pushing the blame for Mexican cartel violence to Central America's maras may be politically advantageous, evidence is lacking.
Junior - August 3, 2012 07:07 PM (GMT)
El Salvador to Cut Mass Arrests, After Gang Demands
By Hannah Stone, InSight, Friday, August 3, 2012
El Salvador’s government announced that the police were going to slow the rate of operations to catch large numbers of suspected criminals, but denied that this was in response to recent demands made by gang leaders.
Security Minister David Munguia Payes said that the number of large-scale operations would be scaled back in the coming days, prioritizing the capture of those accused of the most serious crimes. He said this was because of a lack of space to hold those arrested, and denied that the government was giving in to the demands of the gangs for operations to cease, reported La Prensa Grafica.
According to Munguia, the security forces are currently arresting an average of 250 people a day, adding to the population of 26,000 prisoners and 3,000 people in police holding cells.
InSight Crime Analysis
It’s true that El Salvador's penal system is heavily overcrowded, with a capacity for only 8,100 prisoners, and another 400 in holding cells. The number of inmates has shot up in recent years, from some 20,000 in 2008.
However, the timing of Munguia’s announcement, less than a month after the leaders of the country’s two biggest gangs asked the government to suspend operations in their territory, raises suspicions about its motive. Since March, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 have cut down on killings, as part of a truce that has brought the murder rate down by some 60 percent.
In July, jailed leaders presented a list of demands to the government. They said that, as they have committed to cutting violence, the government should do its part by suspending police operations in their territory, limiting themselves to making arrests when individuals are caught while committing a crime.
The government's lack of transparency during the entire process of dealing with the truce makes it difficult to know if it is accurate for Munguia to say that the slowing down of operations is nothing to do with this demand.
The announcement is a change in policy from the security minister -- in an interview in February this year, before the gang truce took hold, Munguia told El Faro that he was prepared to lock up another 10,000 members, if that’s what it took to defeat the gangs.
According to police figures from last year, there are currently 28,000 gang members in El Salvador -- roughly 10,000 of them in prison and the rest at liberty. If the government is arresting 250 people a day, most of whom are gang members as the Prensa Grafica report states, it should only take three months or so for the entire gang population to be behind bars.