Police in El Salvador seized 160 kilograms of Colombian cocaine last week, again shedding light on the importance of the Texis Cartel on the Central American drug trafficking map and its possible connections with Mexican and Colombian cartels.
On March 12, the Salvadoran National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil - PNC) seized 160 kilograms of Colombian cocaine in an area known as "El Poliedro" (the Polyhedron), on the outskirts of San Salvador, the country's capital. A senior police chief confirmed to InSight Crime that there are strong indications that the drugs belong to the Texis Cartel, a Salvadoran group dedicated to drug trafficking and money laundering that is led, among others, by José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," whom the United States designated as an international drug kingpin in 2014.
After Sunday's seizure, the police chief also said that the PNC is investigating connections between Salvadoran transporters and the Guatemalan drug trafficker, Marlon Francesco Monroy Meoño, alias "El Fantasma" (The Ghost), who is currently incarcerated in the United States but whose subordinates are still active in Central America.
"The Texis [Cartel] and 'El Fantasma' are definitely linked," the Salvadoran official said.
A source from the Attorney General's Office said that one of the marks found on the seized packages, that of a horse, had already appeared on drugs belonging to the Texis Cartel, specifically to Horacio Ríos, a fugitive ex-deputy.
In 2013, the Attorney General investigated Ríos; Roberto Herrera, alias "El Burro"; and others for their relationship with the Texis Cartel. Herrera was convicted, not for drug trafficking, but for other crimes such as vehicle theft. In the indictment, a witness told prosecutors that Ríos was known as "The Lord of Horses," and that he liked to mark his drugs with a horse.
According to police, the seized drugs were destined for Metapán, a city in northwestern El Salvador which is also the headquarters of the Texis Cartel. On Tuesday, March 14, the PNC raided several houses around Metapan in search of more clues about the 160 kilogram seizure.
Howard Cotto, director of the PNC, confirmed suspicions that the drugs belonged to the Texis Cartel to La Prensa Gráfica, and stated that the group moves cocaine by land in El Salvador and has contacts with Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers.
"As we have always said, these are structures that large cartels pay to move drugs from one place to another. When it comes to these large quantities ... it's always for international trade," Cotto said.
The Texis Cartel gained notoriety in 2011 when a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that El Salvador's northwest route, which connects with Honduras and Guatemala, was starting to become one of the most active. Then another report, this one from the digital newspaper El Faro, linked the Texis Cartel with several Salvadoran police chiefs, judges and other officials.
In 2011, the United Nations said the Texis Cartel is one of El Salvador's drug trafficking groups that has received protection from politicians and government officials. The other group acting in complicity with public officials is Los Perrones, which originally controlled the eastern coasts of El Salvador, Colombia's main entry point since the late 1990s.
In 2012, the Attorney General's Office, headed by Luis Martínez, convicted "Burro" Herrera and other middlemen of the Texis Cartel. However, Martinez, who is currently in jail for corruption allegations in cases not related to drug traffickers, made sure not to pursue Chepe Diablo.
It wasn't until the end of last year that the current Salvadoran prosecutor, Douglas Meléndez, reopened a money laundering investigation against Salazar Umaña and some 50 companies related to the Texis Cartel. These investigations, however, appear to be on hold.
Vice President of El Salvador Óscar Ortiz also had relations with Salazar Umaña through a real estate company, of which they were both partners until at least 2012.
InSight Crime Analysis
The seizure in "El Poliedro" brings to light several important pieces of information. First, the Texis Cartel, whose leadership Salvadoran authorities have protected in the past, remains a major player in regional drug trafficking. Also, connections between Salvadoran and Guatemalan transporters continue despite several of their leaders being captured. And lastly, as InSight Crime has previously reported, the Central American corridor is alive and well.
Colombian experts assured InSight Crime that another mark found on the seized drugs in El Salvador, made with three number 7s, has been used in the past by "Los Chatas." A faction of the Oficina de Envigado, "Los Chatas" was one of the groups that inherited part of the drug trafficking business of the Medellín Cartel almost three decades ago.
The same source said the cocaine with the markings could be destined for the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG). The CJNG has gained strength after the January 2016 arrest of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo," leader of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.
However, the Salvadoran police source quoted above also said that the shipment entered from the coast of El Salvador's La Unión department, and that it came from Colombia's Pacific coast. InSight Crime has verified from the ground that, as indicated by figures from the US and Colombian governments, the southwestern department of Nariño is one of the main launching points for cocaine destined to Central America.
The latter may seem contradictory to the information that the Colombian sources provided, because the Oficina de Envigado usually unloads its shipments through Colombia's Caribbean, and not its Pacific coast.
It is not uncommon, however, that Central American transporters handle shipments from several suppliers of cocaine in the south, or that part of the drugs they transport arrive directly from exit points in Colombia and others through Central American middlemen. This suggests that it is possible that the Texis Cartel is moving drugs for more than one group.
SEE ALSO: Texis Cartel News and Profile
This has happened before, for example, with El Fantasma. Last October, Colombian police managed to capture several drug traffickers throughout the country who collected significant shipments to send to the Guatemalan boss. That operation saw the capture of "Eco," the partner of an important group that operates in the department of Tumaco in Colombia's Pacific.
The amount of cocaine seized in El Salvador is also telling. It is not a large amount when compared to seizures made in Costa Rica or Honduras, or in El Salvador's case, if you compare it to the latest maritime seizures. However, for what authorities usually seize on land routes in El Salvador, this is an important seizure. This could mean, according to sources consulted in the PNC, that the terrestrial corridor, especially that of the Pan-American highway, is more active today.
The connection between the Texis Cartel and El Fantasma's organization could also imply that Salvadoran transporters have never stopped acting as middlemen in drug trafficking between Colombian suppliers and larger groups in Guatemala that control exit routes to Mexico.
In any case, it seems clear that the 160 kilograms from "El Poliedro" have put the Texis Cartel back in a privileged place on Central America's drug trafficking map.