El Salvador Weakens MS-13, Barrio 18 Gangs

El Salvador Weakens MS-13, Barrio 18 Gangs

By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo
January 06, 2021

The Salvadoran authorities carried out simultaneous operations nationwide that resulted in the arrest of hundreds of gang members, on November 23-26, 2020.

Among the detainees are 354 members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), 256 of Barrio 18, and 119 of other criminal groups. The criminals were arrested for homicide, extortion, rape, drugs, and robbery, Salvadoran Minister of Justice and Public Security Rogelio Rivas said on the Ministry’s official website on November 28.

“We’ve managed to positively impact […] all crime in the country. It has been an unprecedented operation, in which we’ve captured [729] individuals,” Rivas added.

Small-scale drug trafficking is one of the gangs’ main sources of income. These funds are then laundered in small businesses. The MS-13 alone collects about $700,000 per month from narcotrafficking, along with more than $2 million per month from extortion of businesses and citizens, the Spanish news agency EFE reported on November 28.

The multiple operations are part of the Regional Shield initiative, the Salvadoran Office of the Attorney General said in a statement on November 26. This operation was the fourth phase of a joint operation that began in September 2017.

Operation Regional Shield is a U.S.-supported joint effort involving law enforcement institutions of the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala), which facilitates the coordination and exchange of information to combat gangs, the Salvadoran Office of the Attorney General reported on November 26.

“Since we started Regional Shield, we’ve issued 21,500 arrest warrants against gang members, and we’ve managed to convict almost 17,800 of them; [that’s] 80 percent effectiveness,” Salvadoran Attorney General Raúl Melara said via YouTube on November 26.

“Although the gangs have tried to join large-scale cocaine trafficking, so far they haven’t been able to do so,” Juan Gómez Hecht, an expert at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for Central America and the Caribbean, told Forbes Central America on July 23. “Most of the cocaine that circulates through the Central American isthmus does so by sea and, in the case of El Salvador, in waters far from its coast, and the gangs do not have the capacity to operate in these waters.”