HomeNewsAnalysisMS13 Infiltrates Local Government in El Salvador Once Again
ANALYSIS

MS13 Infiltrates Local Government in El Salvador Once Again

BARRIO 18 / 18 DEC 2020 BY VICTORIA DITTMAR EN

A mayor in eastern El Salvador is accused of financing the MS13 street gang and helping them to orchestrate killings, in a case that illustrates the nexus between the country's criminal gangs and politicians. 

Roel Werner Martínez Romero, the mayor of the municipality of El Tránsito, and two other officials were charged with the homicides of two municipal councilors between 2018 and 2019, Attorney General Raúl Melara announced via Twitter.

All three were arrested during a massive December 15 operation, in which authorities executed 322 arrest warrants for leaders, members and collaborators of the MS13 in the eastern departments of San Miguel, Usulután and La Unión, according to a press release issued by the Attorney General's Office. To date, a total of 110 individuals have been arrested.

SEE ALSO: How El Salvador President Bukele Deals with Gangs

The eastern part of El Salvador -- particularly San Miguel, where El Tránsito is located --  has served as an important operations hub for MS13 in the last three decades. The gang exercises territorial control in cities, towns and wide stretches of rural areas. Additionally, it has been associated with criminal groups dedicated to drug trafficking and targeted killings. 

The MS13 has near total dominance of San Miguel's capital and neighboring areas, civil society, human rights and law enforcement officials told InSight Crime researchers during a 2019 field investigation. In some cases, municipal authorities allegedly pay a quota to the gangs in order to carry out infrastructure projects in these neighborhoods, according to local sources. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The alleged collaboration between the MS13 and El Tránsito's mayor in two killings is another example of how El Salvador's street gangs and top officials use each other for their own ends. 

In 2017, InSight Crime published an investigation into José Elías Hernández, the former mayor of Apopa, who was accused of orchestrating the killing of a gang member in his employ. Though a judge absolved Hernández of the homicide charge, he was convicted of illicit association with the Barrio 18 street gang. Hernández provided the gang with money collected through taxes, gasoline and free rein in designated territories. In exchange, he received votes and maintained a margin that set him apart from his political rivals. In January, the former mayor was sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

SEE ALSO: El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

Arrangements between the gangs and politicians extend to the national level as well.  Officials from all branches of government and politicians from a range of political parties have all negotiated with the gangs.

For example, congressman Norman Quijano -- of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista – ARENA) party, who was also a presidential candidate and the mayor of San Salvador -- has faced criminal charges since January for allegedly negotiating with the gangs in secret during his failed presidential bid in 2014. 

David Munguía Payés, the Minister of Defense and Public Security during the administration of President Mauricio Funes (2009 - 2014), was arrested in July of this year for crimes related to the polemic truce between the national government and the two gangs. The truce strengthened the gangs' political and social capital while also reinforcing their territorial control.

Even the current president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, has been alleged to be involved in negotiations with the gangs since he served as the mayor of San Salvador (2015-2018). A recent investigation by InSight Crime detailed how Bukele's municipal government -- at that time associated to the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional – FMLN) -- offered various political favors to the gangs in exchange for allowing him to revamp the city's Historic Center, boosting his political career. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

EL SALVADOR / 16 MAR 2014

Six gangs in El Salvador have announced they wish to continue a two-year old truce during the new presidential term,…

BARRIO 18 / 29 JAN 2019

Though violence has decreased in Guatemala, recent deadly attacks against buses show that public transport remains under siege by gangs,…

COCAINE / 23 JUL 2015

A US anti-drug operation intercepted a semi-submersible watercraft hundreds of miles off the coast of El Salvador, seizing 8 tons…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…