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. He is the leader of the MS13 “program” known as the “Normandie Locos Salvatruchos,” or simply “La Normandy,” which runs “cliques,” or cells, along El Salvador’s western Pacific coast, and is believed to control drug distribution in the departments of Santa Ana, Ahuachapán, and Sonsonate.
Barney’s criminal history includes various arrests between 2002 and 2007 for crimes including aggravated homicide and extortion. In September 2009, he was caught with seven kilograms of cocaine in the department of La Libertad, south of the capital San Salvador — a large amount of drugs for an MS13 member. However, he was later released on a technicality and the decision was upheld, a move criticized by Security Minister Manuel Melgar as an indication that judges favor “mareros,” as members of the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs are known locally. According to police intelligence, Barney paid off several judges to secure his release.
Police have also linked Barney to a US-bound shipment of 113 kilograms of cocaine valued at $2,825,000 intercepted on a boat off Zuncita beach in Sonsonate on November 7, 2012.
El Barney Factbox
DOB: October 30, 1984
Group: Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) Normandie Locos Salvatrucha
Criminal Activities: Drug trafficking, drug sales, money laundering, murder
Area of Operation: Sonsonate, La Libertad, Santa Ana, Ahuachapán (El Salvador)
Status: At large
Barney has been accused of involvement in 50 homicides, in some of which the bodies were cut up, disposed of in plastic garbage bags, and thrown along public highways, according to investigative news outlet El Faro.
Barney’s financial activities follow patterns typical of money launderers. By 2008, he owned at least 14 properties used for various purposes. He is also one of the owners of a bus company called Ruta 42-B which operates in Santa Tecla, La Libertad (near the capital San Salvador), which according to police has ties to the Grand Alliance for National Unity (Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional – GANA) political party. Police intelligence indicates that the party has provided a political and legal safe haven to Barney and was part of the team that pressured the local judges to drop the 2009 drug charges.
In June 2013, Barney was added to the US Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Nationals subject to economic sanctions, along with five other MS13 leaders.
What sets Barney apart from other MS13 leaders is his level of influence. It is not common for MS13 members to be transporters of drugs in their own right, particularly not on a transnational level. Barney, however, is thought to possibly move drugs to Guatemala from his area of control near the border.
His power is thought to stem in part from his father’s connections. Former Salvadoran army colonel Asmel Antonio Bercián Rivera, alias “El Tiburón,” is allegedly linked to some of El Salvador’s most powerful criminals. He has been linked to Salvadoran drug trafficking organization the Texis Cartel. According to police, he owns hardware stores used as cover for moving cocaine, and uses gang members to do the grunt work.
Barney’s international reach remained largely unconfirmed until May 2018, when his father and brother were arrested following an investigation that tracked biweekly cocaine shipments from Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica.
Barney and his program are involved in drug transportation and distribution, possibly at a transnational level. Other crimes attributed to him include murder and possibly money laundering.
Barney operates in the departments of Santa Ana, Ahuachapán and Sonsonate, where he controls drug distribution, possibly moving cocaine to Guatemala.
Allies and Enemies
Likely allies include the Texis Cartel and the Zetas, while a major enemy of the MS13 is the Barrio 18 street gang.
Barney also appears to have some allies in the Salvadorian government, although it remains unclear how many there are. In January 2020, former National Assembly President Sigfrido Reyes was accused of laundering money for members of Barney’s family.
Barney was most likely only able to establish a transnational drug trafficking network thanks to his father’s connections. However, his father’s arrest in 2018 — and subsequent death from medical complications — don’t appear to have slowed down Barney’s activities. His apparent success could have serious implications for future operations of the MS13, as he is an example of how gang members can successfully make the leap into more sophisticated criminal operations.