Armed Forces of El Salvador Help Prevent Gang Leaders from Directing Crime from Prison
By Dialogo April 29, 2016
The Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) have assembled a special command that works with the National Civil Police (PNC) and the Bureau of Prisons (DGCP) to prevent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gang leaders from ordering crimes and acts of terrorism from within correctional facilities. The emergency strategy has been implemented in seven of the country's 21 penitentiaries, where authorities have isolated 299 gang leaders from the general prison population.
The Salvadoran Penitentiary System's Special Surveillance Command is carrying out the strategy in prisons in the municipalities of Izalco, Ciudad Barrios, Cojutepeque, Zacatecoluca, Chalatenango, and San Francisco Gotera, in addition to the higher-security correctional facility in the municipality of Quezaltepeque. “We are redesigning surveillance mechanisms within the prisons, seizing contraband, and cutting off communications with incarcerated gang members,” said Colonel Edwin Juárez, commanding officer of the San Carlos Command and member of the Special Surveillance Command.
Three of the prisoners have also been barred from visiting with family and friends, and can only meet with legal counsel with the Special Surveillance Command's approval. The prisoners' transfers were in response to Military and police intelligence reports that indicated MS-13 gang leaders – incarcerated in prisons in the cities of Izalco and Ciudad Barrios – were responsible for ordering the killings of 11 people on the night of March 2nd in the municipality of San Juan Opico.
Nine of the victims were employees at an electric company, while two were area residents. There have been 1,935 homicides recorded in the country during the first quarter of the year, compared to the 1,121 that authorities documented during the same period in 2015, according to the PNC.
“There is no room for truces or talks with these criminals," Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén said during a press conference on March 7th at the President’s House. "We are going to treat them like what they are: criminals. We must ensure that these atrocities do not occur again.”
FAES boasts strong contingent
The FAES maintain a strong contingent of 1,268 service members to guard the perimeters of the country’s penitentiaries and another 500 service members to mobilize during emergencies. Since March 29th, Military personnel have patrolled the communities surrounding the penitentiaries in armored vehicles and inspected residences and establishments suspected of housing gang members who carry out the imprisoned leaders' orders.
“Through the Safe House program, we are proving that no homes are being used by criminal groups to plan crimes or shelter persons attempting to smuggle illicit objects into penitentiaries,” Defense Minister David Munguía Payés told representatives at the Legislative Assembly on March 31st.
The Special Surveillance Command ordered searches and seizures at the seven prisons between March 29th-April 6th to cut off communications between gang leaders and their subordinates. During the nine-day period, authorities confiscated 494 cell phones and other equipment. The country's four telephone companies granted the government's request by turning off 15 cell phone signal towers around the seven prisons where the emergency measures are in place.
“We have no internet, cable service, or telephone signal," said Amalia Pérez, a 32-year-old teacher and Quezaltepeque resident. "We have no means of communication. But we understand that this is a special situation meant to stop more Salvadorans from dying on the orders of gang members."
Those living near prisons trust that authorities have blocked the gang leaders from ordering crimes. They hope the surveillance continues.
“It gives me peace of mind to know that there is a service member in our country’s Military on every corner of the city," said Atilio Guzmán, a 57-year-old carpenter and Quezaltepeque resident. "They are constantly conducting surveillance patrols and they talk with us to see whether we have noticed strange persons moving about."
The activities against the bands and gangs are well targeted, the Salvadoran President has thrown the house out the window by calling them terrorists and taking action against them, they are a scourge that plagues the Salvadoran family and which will increase the trouble any minute now all throughout Central America, there are human rights for terrorists but not for those who give their lives in the fight against this scourge.