Unlike some Central American gangs that have earned fame for their brutality and their liberal use of violence, the Cartel de Texis has developed a reputation for a more business-like approach to the drug trade. But as the report by Salvadoran news site El Faro about the group illustrates, while the gang isn’t known for leaving a trail of dead behind, it has nonetheless turned itself into one of the more formidable criminal groups in El Salvador, and a vital link for Colombians and Mexicans seeking to move cocaine through the tiny nation.
The Cartel de Texis is traced to three alleged founders: Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, Juan Umaña Samayoa, and Roberto Herrera. More than veterans of the Salvadoran underworld who worked their way up, these men are respected figures in Salvadoran society. From its start, the group has relied less on the frequently brutal tactics of Latin American mafia — i.e. responding to any slight or business disagreement with bullets and bloodshed — in favor of more subtle methods, namely bribery and corruption.
Cartel de Texis Factbox
El Salvador Factbox
Drug transit, human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, prostitution rings
Principal criminal groups
MS13, Barrio 18, Los Perrones, Texis Cartel
The leaders of the Cartel de Texis were for the most part well established in the worlds of Salvadoran business and politics long before they began to be linked to the drug trade, dating back to the early 1990s in Salazar’s case. It’s difficult to say exactly how they began running contraband through the mountainous northwest region that connects this Central American nation with Honduras. Yet, according to El Faro, they have been at it for years.
To be sure, national authorities have been investigating the group since at least 2000, which suggests that they have been in business far longer. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have also attached an eye to the group, with investigations of some high-ranking members dating back several years. None of the various investigations into Texis personnel, however, have led to convictions of the high-level figures. Many were completely unknown among the general public until the El Faro report, which is a testament to the ability of the Cartel de Texis to operate outside the public eye.
Perhaps not surprisingly, in response to the report that summarized the efforts by some elements of the government to investigate this group, Salazar and his cohort were unrepentant and defiant, inviting their critics to prove their links to the drug trade.
Since then El Faro has come out with another piece, this time detailing the extensive political influence of the group, especially in the northwest region bordering Guatemala and Honduras.
More than any other group, the Cartel de Texis is characterized by a patina of legitimacy. Jose Adan Salazar Umaña is the best example: He is not only the president of Salvadoran soccer’s first division, but also a respected hotelier and one of the nation’s most recognized businessmen. (His business empire also serves as a valuable tool for money laundering, for which he first came under the suspicion of U.S. agencies.) In the Texis leadership circle, he is allegedly joined by Juan Umaña Samayoa, the mayor of Metapan, where the gang’s power structure is centered. Other politicians supporting the Cartel de Texis include Armando Portillo Portillo, the mayor of Texistepeque, a mid-sized city south of Metapan, and Reynaldo Cardoza, a federal congressman from Chalatenango, a city located near the Honduran border.
The intimate connections with the highest level of Salvadoran politics has allowed the group to evade the attention of law enforcement. Their political links, which are useful for sweeping those investigations that do exist under the rug, have allowed the Cartel de Texis to branch out into the security agencies, buying off police and soldiers, so as to ensure the integrity of their shipments, as well as judges and prosecutors, so as to further reduce the chances of charges against them. Whereas other Salvadoran gangs like the Perrones and the “maras” have long suffered blows to their upper-echelon leadership, the Cartel de Texis bosses have largely remained immune from government pressure.
In April 2017, the group suffered a damaging blow to its leadership after El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office arrested José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias “Chepe Diablo,” the alleged leader of the Texis Cartel. The arrest further raises questions about links between Salazar Umaña and current Vice President Óscar Ortiz. However, the suspected connections to El Salvador’s elites don’t stop there. Two additional main suspects, Juan Umaña Samayoa, the mayor of the northwestern town of Metapán, and Wilfredo Guerra, the president of the Gumarsal grain company that has been linked to Chepe Diablo’s business network, evaded capture during the operation.
The group is not hierarchical. It is, rather, a circle of leadership and an alliance of convenience, in which each boss has their own chain of subordinates. They collaborate and coordinate as needed, and apparently without a great deal of rancor. In fact, Salazar is said to discourage gang members from even carrying weapons, preferring instead to rely on the protections of those who are legally armed–the police and the military.
The Cartel de Texis’ network extends across a northern slice of El Salvador, from the border with Honduras to that of Guatemala. Typically, the cocaine moved by the Cartel de Texis arrives from South America to Honduras by sea via go-fast boats or semi-submersibles to the city of Gracias a Dios, or by plane, in which case they land in the vast farms of the state of Olancho. The Honduran shipment is then transferred into the hands of the Cartel de Texis in San Fernando, a remote border town in northern El Salvador.
From there, the shipment cuts an overland path through the northern Salvadoran backwater region, with much of the terrain covered by unpaved roads. It heads first slightly south through the small town of Dulce Nombre de Maria, then west, and finally juts north through the gang’s headquarters of Metapan, crossing the border with Guatemala north of the gang’s home base.
This path is known alternately as the Northern Route or as “el Caminito,” the little pathway, and it may soon get even easier to move drugs across it, as the government is moving ahead with plans to pave much of the highways in the region.
Allies and Enemies
The group has an ethos of not subordinating itself before outside groups, but rather serving as perennial free agents. Like their counterparts the Perrones, the Cartel de Texis does business with whoever will pay them to use their network.
The Cartel de Texis has been successful at avoiding the public eye and successful prosecution by authorities for drug trafficking. In response, the Salvadoran attorney general has charged suspected leaders of the group with money laundering and tax evasion. While these moves may be the first cracks in the Cartel de Texis’ wall of impunity, the group has yet to suffer significant losses in its leadership or operations.
The recent arrest of alleged Texis Cartel leader Chepe Diablo further solidifies longtime suspicions that the criminal group has strong ties with some of El Salvador’s most prominent business and political elites. This setback marks the first significant blow the group’s leadership and operations have received. However, it remains to be seen what impact Salazar Umaña’s arrest will have on the future of the group’s operations.
- “El Cartel de Texis,” El Faro, May 16, 2011.
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