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El Salvador

El Salvador is a relatively small but growing player in the drug trafficking business. It serves as a drug receiving and storage point along the Pacific Coast, and a bridge via the Pan-American Highway, the Fonseca Gulf and roads from Honduras that cut through relatively unpopulated areas

Latest News

In El Salvador, a New Security Minister With a Dubious Past

NEWS / 2 APR 2021

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele has appointed a new security minister whose alleged ties to officials and political operators accused of corruption raise concerns about the government's commitment to transparent…

Revived Drug Routes, Evolving Street Gangs in El Salvador

NEWS / 24 MAR 2021

Though a relatively minor player in the transnational drug trade, El Salvador's overland smuggling routes have undergone a moderate revival and some factions of the country's largest street gang --…

How a US Court Ruling Impacts Gang Member Asylum Claims

NEWS / 23 FEB 2021

A US federal appeals court has delayed the deportation of a former MS13 member to El Salvador, ruling that his status as a former gang member puts him in a…

El Salvador Profile

Criminal Actors

Armed Groups

Crime and violence in El Salvador are fueled by street gangs – particularly the infamous Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and to a lesser extent two factions of the Barrio 18. The gangs control territory through cliques, engaging in low-level crimes like extortion, kidnapping and drug sales. Drug trafficking groups – the Perrones and the Texis Cartel – also have operations in the country. But these groups have been on the decline after the arrests of key figures, leaving a door open for the country’s dominant gang – the MS13 – to enter the trafficking market.



Moris Alexander Bercián Manchón, alias ‘El Barney’

EL SALVADOR / 2020-03-09

Moris Alexander Bercián Manchón, alias "El Barney," is one of six MS13 members in El Salvador sanctioned by the United States for participation in illicit transnational actvities including drug trafficking.

José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias ‘Chepe Diablo’

CHEPE DIABLO / 2017-05-04 16:38:54

José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," does not fit the normal profile of a criminal leader. As the former president of the first division of Salvadoran soccer and…

Reynerio Flores Lazo

EL SALVADOR PERSONALITIES / 2017-03-09 22:27:26

While Reynerio Flores is serving an 80-year jail term, he remains one of the most notorious and important leaders of Perrones, one of the most significant cocaine smuggling gangs in…

José Natividad Luna Pereira, alias ‘Chepe Luna’

CHEPE LUNA / 2020-03-10 22:29:20

Once the most powerful boss of the Perrones "transportista" syndicate, Jose Natividad Luna Pereira, alias "Chepe Luna," was murdered in Honduras in June 2014. Before his death, Luna built a…




Hopes are high in the Northern Triangle, that the arrival of Joseph Biden and his administration to the White House will lead to the creation of a regional commission that…


As workers across Latin America struggle to stay afloat amid economic strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, loan sharks offering abusive interest rates have cornered the market, forcing workers seeking…


While unrest gripped much of Latin America in 2019, it was the coronavirus that took center stage and ripped through the region in 2020, upending everything from commercial trade to…


Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…


Given the challenges of a deadly pandemic, President Joe Biden could be forgiven for not having Central America’s security at the top of his agenda on day one, or 100…

BARRIO 18 / 20 JAN 2021

Though he did not have any apparent health problems, a top MS13 leader was transferred from a prison to a hospital in El Salvador -- a move approved by…