HomeNewsAnalysisEx-DEA Agent: US Tolerant of Central American Drug Corruption

Ex-DEA Agent: US Tolerant of Central American Drug Corruption


Former DEA agent in El Salvador Danny Dalton doesn't mince words: Central America's drug trafficking organizations would not be so well developed without the help of corrupt local authorities that have been tolerated by US governments.  

"When you see those organizations growing and starting to move across international borders, it is because corrupt authorities let them, or because the United States is not doing its job," Dalton told InSight Crime.

Dalton, who was stationed in El Salvador with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from 2002 to 2004, said he has since retired from the agency. He led the investigations of Guatemala drug trafficker Byron Berganza and of the Salvadoran organization Los Perrones from his office at the US Embassy in San Salvador. Dalton also initiated the investigation of José Natividad Luna Perera, alias "Chepe Luna," a leader of Los Perrones who was able to infiltrate El Salvador's National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil – PNC) at its highest levels.

When the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Salvadoran authorities were working the Perrones investigation in 2004, it was the collusion of then PNC director Ricardo Menesses that allowed members of the gang to elude capture. The US authorities suspected at the time that the Perrones had also infiltrated the government of then President Antonio Saca. Luna escaped to Honduras, where he was gunned down on the streets in 2014.

SEE ALSO: Perrones Cartel News and Profile

"Those groups contributed money to political campaigns; to presidential campaigns," Dalton said. "There is a lot of information about that. And what I want to point out is the United States government's responsibility in all this."

The financial transactions Dalton referred to are well documented. As InSight Crime has reported, at least two members of the Perrones -- the contraband runner Élmer Medrano Escobar and Reynerio de Jesús Flores Lazo -- gave money to Herbert Saca in 2004 when his cousin, Antonio Saca, was the presidential candidate for the conservative ARENA party.

Documents from the Salvadoran Commerce Registry show that in June of that year Herbert Saca received $228,571 from M&M Importaciones, which was owned by Medrano. A source who worked closely with top Perrones members said that Flores Lazo's family gave Adolfo Tórrez, an ARENA leader and a member of Saca's successful campaign, at least $123,000 during the run-up to the election.

The State Department's warnings appear to find little echo in the actions of US authorities in the field. Dalton says the United States has dedicated insufficient resources to US law enforcement agencies that work with their Central American counterparts.

Dalton is back in Central America working as a consultant on an investigation led by the Teamsters Union. The union is trying to get the Salvadoran Attorney General's Office to reopen its investigation of the murder of Salvadoran-American labor activist Gilberto Soto, who was killed in 2004 by gang members working as hired assassins.

The former agent insisted that high profile cases like the Perrones, Soto's murder and, more recently, that of businessman and Cartel de Texis boss José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," are not fully investigated due to the corruption of Salvadoran authorities and the complacency of US officials.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Chepe Diablo

"Chepe Diablo" was added to the US Treasury Department's "Kingpin List" in May 2014. However, neither US nor Salvadoran authorities have brought investigations of the businessman to a conclusion. El Salvador's former attorney general, Luis Martínez (2012-2015), shelved a money laundering case against Salazar Umaña despite the Finance Ministry having uncovered evidence that he and his companies had engaged in the illegal practice.

"All I know is that (President) Obama designated Chepe Diablo a drug trafficking kingpin, and they wouldn't have arrived at that conclusion without there being sufficient information about it," Dalton said. "How is it possible that, after you designate him a kingpin, two years go by and you haven't charged him with anything?

InSight Crime Analysis

Danny Dalton's is the latest of many voices in both the United States and Central America which have asked why Washington's policies to combat drug trafficking in Latin America do not place sufficient emphasis on Central America. Critics also wonder why, when US officials are paying attention, they fail to account for the important role corrupt local officials have played in the growth of the area's biggest drug trafficking organizations.

The US State Department has in its annual reports on global drug trafficking noted that corruption and impunity are two of the principal motors of violence and organized crime on the isthmus, and especially in the so-called Northern Triangle formed by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The area has become one of the world's most violent regions.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles 

The State Department's warnings, however, appear to find little echo in the actions of US authorities in the field. Dalton says the United States has dedicated insufficient resources to US law enforcement agencies that work with their Central American counterparts. He also notes a lack of willingness on the part of the US government to investigate, process and imprison the drug traffickers or the public officials who protect them. 

"The corruption in these countries exists in part because the United States is not doing its job: The United States can bring charges against the drug traffickers or corrupt officials who are helping them bring drugs to (the United States) or launder the money they get from these operations," Dalton said. "Why aren't they doing it? I know who they are. You know who they are. They know who they are. But no one does anything."

The United States is currently backing two anticorruption initiatives in the Northern Triangle. The successful International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) was created and financed with US support. Washington is also providing funding for the Organization of American States' newly minted international mission against corruption in Honduras, known by its Spanish acronym as MACCIH. Some have suggested El Salvador would benefit from a similar effort, but the government of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and the country's last two attorneys general have said there is no need for such a commission in the country.

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