U.S. to Continue Support to Fight Gangs in the Northern Triangle

U.S. to Continue Support to Fight Gangs in the Northern Triangle

By Lorena Baires
July 29, 2019

The United States reaffirmed its commitment to continue strengthening efforts from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to counter transnational organized criminal organizations. U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced the decision during the Third Ministerial of the Northern Triangle Attorneys General, held May 16, in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Attorneys general from four countries will implement a regional strategy in the following months, expanding their efforts to eradicate human trafficking, corruption, and financial crimes. Because it’s about common threats, policies and legislation will be designed to increase effectiveness and the scope of law enforcement agencies, public ministries, and judiciary authorities.

“We have renewed our commitment to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against MS-13, the 18th Street Gang, and other transnational criminal groups that threaten the citizens of all our countries,” said Barr. “Together, we struck a hard blow on these criminal organizations.”

“We, the four prosecutors, are willing to counter transnational crime,” Honduran Attorney General Óscar Chinchilla added. “We will focus on two fundamental measures: first, to attack financial structures of transnational criminal groups; second, to hit corruption, which is of key importance in this process.”

Thanks to the U.S. support, authorities filed charges against more than 7,000 gang members from the Northern Triangle. “We are committed to reinforcing our efforts,” said Salvadoran Attorney General Raúl Melara. “With the U.S. government’s cooperation and collaboration, these efforts will yield better results.”

During the meeting, participants signed an agreement to extend Operation Regional Shield, a combined effort to exchange information to combat gangs. Authorities conducted simultaneous operations in 2017 and 2018, and are preparing operations for 2019. For example, one of the most important achievements of the combined efforts between the United States and El Salvador is the arrest of MS-13 leader Armando Eliú Melgar, alias Blu, a gang member who led criminal activities on the U.S. east coast.

“We maintain our commitment to these efforts, with the funds granted to support these police efforts through Operation [Regional] Shield,” said Barr.

Forty-seven percent of Central Americans fled their countries and headed north in caravans that started in October 2018, because of the violence, threats, and insecurity these criminal groups pose, according to the report “El Salvador: Flow Monitoring Survey on Profiles and Humanitarian Needs of Migrants in Transit,” conducted by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration. “I believe that improving security in our countries is important to reduce forced migration,” Barr added.

The United States reaffirmed it will continue to fund the efforts through resident legal advisors at the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training in each country, with their counter transnational gang teams of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; units of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; and efforts of the Department of Homeland Security to combat illegal human trafficking.

To continue disrupting criminal groups, information exchange and experience in investigation are essential. “Cooperation between both nations is mutual because El Salvador sends analysts and investigators to the United States to work with law enforcement agencies and the investigation processes of criminal organizations in that country,” said Commissioner Howard Cotto, director of the National Civil Police.

“The most important areas are human trafficking and smuggling, narcotrafficking, and gang issues. The attorney general [William Barr] has recognized our advances in that regard in El Salvador. We are permanently in contact with law enforcement agencies in the United States, and we always get that information. Today the attorney general confirmed they don’t intend to reduce the budget for security,” Commissioner Cotto concluded.