Zeus Command Troops Improve Public Safety in El Salvador

By Lorena Baires
Lorena Montserrat Cárcamo Baires | 19 November 2014

Transnational Threats

Seized weapon: Salvadoran troops and National Civil Police agents seized this improvised weapon during a recent operation in the municipality of Santa Elena, in the Department of Usulutan. Soldiers and PNC agents also captured eight alleged members of the gang Mara Salvatrucha, who are suspected robbery and other crimes. [Photo: Army of El Salvador]

Thousands of troops attached to the Zeus Command of the Armed Forces of El Salvador (FAES) are patrolling the country’s 31 most dangerous municipalities to help the National Civil Police (PNC) provide public security.

The 3,100 Zeus Command troops on patrol are helping the PNC fight violent street gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M-18), as well as common criminals.

The military has been supporting the PNC’s efforts to fight crime since May 2013, and have had a signifianct impact in improving public safety.

BetweenMay2013 and October 6, 2014, the military has confiscated more than $109,000 in cash; more than 32,000 doses of drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine; 11,870 packs of contraband cigarettes; 3,892 cellphones, which soldiers seized from suspected gang members; 239 firearms, of various calibers; and 1,642 rounds of ammunition.

Military cooperation in the fight against crime

Before the Zeus troops were deployed to help the PNC, the military did not typically provide police patrols and seize small amounts of drugs.

“We are making an exception to support different government plans in order to bring peace and social harmony [to the public],” said Maj. Gen. David Munguía Payés, the national defense minister. “The main accomplishment is the control and decrease of illegal activities in the municipalities where we operate.”

The military and the PNC work together closely to fight crime. When a soldier detains an offender or seizes weapons, money or drugs, he files a report, and both the detainee and whatever is confiscated is delivered to the PNC to initiate the investigation process. The PNC takes custody of suspects and evidence.

“From an operational point of view, the Armed Forces bring the patrolling,” according to. Misael Rivas Soriano, a Salvadoran security analyst.

Military personnel from the Zeus Command seized guns, ammunition and drugs in an abandoned house in Nahuilapa, department of La Pazon Nov 6.  [Photo: Army of El Salvador]

Combating violent street gangs

Zeus Command troops are concentrating their patrols in municipalities plagued by violent clashes between Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. The two gangs are fighting over control of territory to engage in street-level drug sales and weapons trafficking.

Patrols by troops have prevented some violent attacks. For example, on November 4, the Ares Task Force, which is part of the Zeus Command, repelled an armed attack by Barrio 18 gang members in the Department of La Paz.

After they foiled the attack, soldiers located a house where gang members were storing an arsenal of weapons, including an M16 A1 rifle; a .22-mm pistol; a 30.30 carbine; and several ammunition cartridges. The soldiers also seized drugs that were apparently prepared for domestic sale, including 230 doses of marijuana; 180 doses of crack cocaine; and 260 doses of powder cocaine.

In an earlier operation, on October 11, Zeus Command soldiers in the municipality of San Julián, Department of Sonsonate, seized four firearms and 167 portions of marijuana. They also captured José Daniel Juárez, 21, who is known as “El Chino.” Law enforcement officials suspect El Chino planned to sell the drugs domestically.

Military actions supported by the public

As a consequence of these and other successful security operations, the civilian population supports the Zeus Command’s contributions to public safety, according to a study conducted by the legal sciences program at the Universidad Francisco Gavidia.

In the Department of La Paz, for example, every person surveyed supported having troops accompany police during anti-crime operations, and 92 percent said that strengthening the military has led to a decrease in violence.

“The inhabitants of rural areas in the department of La Paz felt that criminals and gang members have decreased their activities ever since the arrival of the FAES, especially at night, when criminals carry out more activities,” said researchers Vilma Pineda and Moris Sigüenza, the authors of the study. “The people look for support from people who give (them) confidence and that confidence is provided by the Armed Forces,” according to Rivas Soriano

The Zeus Command’s role in supporting the PNC is scheduled to end on May 3, 2015. The government could extend that role.

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