Central American police partner with the FBI to fight MS-13 and M-18 gangs
By Dialogo September 10, 2014
Authorities from six Central American countries are working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on important operations to dismantle violent gang - including Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, and Barrio 18, also known as M-18.
Both gangs operate in several Central American countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. They also operate in the United States.
Those countries, along with Belize, Costa Rica and Panama are cooperating with the FBI in the initiative.
Joint training exercises are one of its most important components.
More than 20 police officers and civilian community activists from those countries participated in two weeks of anti-gang training provided by FBI agents at its campus in Quantico, Virginia. The program, which began in late April and ended in early May, covered combat skills, tactics, and gang prevention.
The training was part of the Central American Community Impact Exchange (CACIE) program, according to the FBI. Authorities established CACIE in in 2013.
FBI agents used a high-tech simulator to provide tactical training for confronting gangs to the participants.
The CACIE program is providing “concrete and specific” training in how to stop gang activities, said Armando Rodríguez, a security analyst from the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM).
Improving cooperation to fight gangs
The partnership between the six Central American countries and the FBI has several goals, Rodríguez said:
Strengthening relationships between law enforcement officials among the six participating Central American countries and their counterparts in the U.S.;
Improving those relationships among civilian government leaders;
Furthering cooperation between police in Central America and the FBI in collecting, analyzing and sharing gang-related information; and
Improving investigations of gang activities in Central America and in the U.S.
MS-13 and Barrio 18 operate in multiple locations Central America and in the United States. In Central America, they are most active in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In the U.S., one or both gangs operate in California, Maryland, Virginia, and Texas.
Gang leaders in Central American sometimes give orders and guidance to gang operatives in the U.S., according to U.S. federal court testimony.
The two gangs are known for using extreme violence. Both gangs engage in killings, extortion, robbery, car theft, human trafficking, and local drug dealing. And both have formed alliances with Mexican transnational criminal organizations - such as the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas - to protect drug shipments into Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Both MS-13 and Barrio 18 are comprised primarily of teenagers and men between the ages of 15 and 35. They’re also known to coerce younger boys into joining, usually as lookouts.
Cooperation between Central American law enforcement authorities and the FBI makes sense, because MS-13 and M-18 have increased their alliances with international drug cartels in recent years, according to Rodríguez.
FBI officials concur that these gangs are an international threat.
“We need to understand the enemy we will be fighting. Gang members do not respect borders,” said Jason Kaplan, FBI Legal Attaché in El Salvador, during a July 18 news conference. “We must establish programs to teach young people how dangerous gangs, drugs and violent crimes are.”
Gangs in Central America
While MS-13 and M-18 are the largest gangs in Central America, they aren’t alone. There are about 900 gangs in the region, according to www.envio.org and other publications, totaling about 140,000 members.
Most gang members work the streets, extorting, perpetrating threats and act of violence, forcibly recruiting young people, and robbing bus drivers and small business owners.
But some gang members are professionals. Among their ranks are physicians, attorneys, engineers and IT specialists.
Some MS-13 and M-18 factions have grown large enough to afford medical equipment so that they can treat members injured during battles, El Heraldo reported on August 6.
In addition to forming alliances with the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, MS-13 and M-18 have also formed partnership with regional drug trafficking groups, such as Los Chachiros, Los Mendozas, Los Lorenzanas and Los Perrones.
Gang activity in Costa Rica
Each of the countries participating in the training with the FBI has different challenges when it comes to gangs.
For example, since 2011, Costa Rican authorities have seen a steady increase in gang activity.
Authorities in Costa Rica must remain vigilant, because the gang problem there could get worse if the gangs in that country continue to grow, Rodríguez said.
There is no significant gang violence in Belize. However, that country is used by transnational criminal organizations as a strategic drug transshipment point to the Caribbean, according to Rodríguez.
Since 2010, Panamanian authorities have noted an increase in gangs transporting drugs through the Gulf of Uribe for transferring drugs.
“The challenge for authorities is to work together in prevention from a social standpoint,” Rodriguez said.
Cooperation is crucial in the fight against gangs and the international drug cartels they partner with, according to an FBI statement.
“We can only be successful in the fight against transnational gangs if we work together,” the FBI states on FBI.gov.
THE FACT ALONE OF FIGHTING CRIMINAL GROUPS WHO GO AGAINST EVERYDAY CITIZENS' CIVIL RIGHTS IS COMMENDABLE. THE GANGS NEED TO BE FOUGHT BECAUSE THEY ARE GROUPS THAT DON'T BRING ANY SOCIAL BENEFIT, CONTRARY TO GOOD HABITS, THEY ARE THE FOCUS OF DRUGS AND OTHER CRIMES. WE HAVE TO PUT AN END TO THE GANGS. WELL, LONGITUDINAL MAPPING CAN ALSO BE DONE BECAUSE THIS KIND OF PEOPLE WHO ORGANIZE TO ACQUIRE TERRITORY AND TERRORIZE CIVILIANS. WHO WE DON'T PUT AWAY AT ALL WE COULD GO AFTER CRIME AND APPLY THE LAWS TO THEM AS CRIMINAL TERRORISTS WHO KNOW OR ARE SAFER IN PRISON BECAUSE THEY KNOW THEY'VE GOT SECURITY 24 HOURS A DAY AND THEY KNOW THEY DON'T HAVE TO PAY FOR WATER, ELECTRICITY AND THEY HAVE THREE SQUARE MEALS A DAY AND THEY KILL PEOPLE WITH NO REMORSE SO MANY INNOCENT PEOPLE. WE COULD MAKE THIS KIND OF LAZY PERSON WORK THE LAND OR BRING THEM OUT TO CLEAN THE STREETS AND THE PARKS, DON'T LOOK OUT FOR THEM ANY MORE THEY HAVE LOST ALL THEIR RIGHTS AS CITIZENS, LET'S PUT OUR HANDS WHERE OUR CONSCIENCE LIES, THE PEOPLE WOULD BE VERY GRATEFUL IF YOU RESCUE OUR NATION. If I could help with this at all, I would do so happily to support you. All they do is talk I agree that the FBI and the CIA should be concerned about dissolving the gangs but I think it's better to deal with the roots of the problem such as the home, places of study, the Government and the law. In our country women give birth before they've come of age and they can't teach a child much, therefore the child starts to fall behind, then the laws prohibit punishing children, the place of study doesn't teach the child to manage his life. The Government doesn't have any psychological help programs for the child, or material support. In other words there is no financial help, there is no work, and also there's the deluge of Hollywood movies that corrupt the child's mind. Therefore, gentlemen, who's fault is it that there are gangs and who do we need to punish? I leave this answer to your own judgment. I have attended several gang related trainings but the issue isn't knowledge. Rather it's applying the laws in our country (El Salvador) no matter how knowledgeable you are it doesn't matter until the people in charge of creating laws understand that belonging to these groups has to be a crime and the law really has to be applied because it's not worth anything to have the police catch them, when they go free three days later Very good, finally the Yankees did something, they were the ones to deported the gang members from the jails, remember? What is it worth capturing so many petty and felonious criminals, when the justice system is so poor it can't verify the misdemeanors or crimes. The ones who are teaching violence are the movie producers another kind of movies should be made not focused on violence but when profits are distributed to the legislators, legislating stops I believe this is a very profound problem, and it's already too big the solution isn't so easy, because at least in my country these illegal groups are supported by authorities under waters, that is why the laws don't change against them, they watch over their own illegal business deals through them, the famous white collar crimes which are all over Central America, and which involve even well-known statesmen, this problem should have a deeper solution and I hope that organizations such as the FBI and the CIA can help our country, since this is not just a problem with the economy or with education. It goes much deeper. What a good decision. Working together is the only way our nation El Salvador will be able to have peace, the same with other countries Many times, anti-gang policies are political strategies here in El Salvador, where it is believed that fighting crime is not a priority for the government, because we have some opportunistic government leaders there is no conviction to govern honestly. Our country would be better off if the governments would act in accordance with the principles of general well-being thinking that they are servants of the people and not using the people. What I mean is that during the past 25 years of apparent peace, 20 years with a right-wing government, 5 with a left-wing government. The perception is that crime comes from the gangs and it has become a boon for the security companies who get rich off the sense of insecurity many Salvadorans feel in their neighborhoods it is hard to believe in fighting against an evil that has become a social cancer, extreme measures need to be taken such as the death penalty for all these antisocial criminals when these factors are minimized, then they should work with the community plan. The gang problem seems to have no end. More than those who are already on the inside, dedicated to recruiting children from a very young age and if they don't comply, they make them disappear in that period when we, the parents, have to work they take advantage of the time the kids are alone or they catch them when they're coming out of school or on the streets when they go out to run an errand in order to get them into their gangs. It would be very excellent for youth at an appropriate age to do military service in the barracks to become disciplined and also if it were a crime to stay in a gang, payable with jail time or community service. They need to work so they can see how hard it is to make money with the sweat of your brow. This will be a good step forward which will be taken to fight crime but it will not be enough. This problem will never end, even this way. Keep on going The issue is that in Guatemala we have no governance and this is what leads to public demonstrations and those responsible for fighting these scourges are caught up in planning how to counter organized crime, which they themselves organize.Where do you think this situation will end? I THINK THE NEWS IS FINE THE WAY IT IS REPORTED. I THOUGHT THERE WASN'T ANYONE DOING ANYTHING AGAINST THIS EVIL TO SOCIETY. That is very good. I hope one day someone would invent jails that are isolated from the population in order for the telephone blocking to work well if they're activated. For example near the foothills of the Guazapa hill, around El Roblar another near the Iramon hill in Chalatenango if they did this, I can assure you it would work. I hope they get their act together Drugs come from South America en route to North America. These countries serve as bridges, but the ocean and the sky are wide open, and drug trafficking has the money to use these means. Tons of drugs move through there, without any border restrictions or loss of product. Those little countries with HUGE LEVELS OF DRUG USE pretend they want to stop the trafficking, but when drugs are in short supply, the price goes up and so the number of crimes, because of a lack of supply. I MAINTAIN THAT THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES should REDUCE the amount of drugs they use, by running campaigns aimed at the new generations, the children, in schools, everywhere there are children who donâ€™t know and have never tried drugs, but it is not in the interest of those who are corrupt. I think an alliance between several countries is of utmost importance to fight this scourge, which takes valuable lives from our country every day. The groups of gang members grow quickly like a cancer that if it's not fought today tomorrow it will be too late, if it isn't already. Here in Guatemala the police help the thieves do whatever they want. This is the case of the Pnc agent Itziril Ovalle.