El Salvador's drug trade gets relatively little attention, overshadowed by the chaos in Mexico, but a new investigation has cast light on the rise of the Texis Cartel, a group playing an increasingly important role in trafficking through Central America.
El Salvadoran newspaper El Faro detailed the development and operations of the Texis Cartel. According to the report, the group controls a vital cocaine transit route known as "El Caminito," or the Little Pathway. This route cuts across the north of El Salvador, from the border with Honduras to the border with Guatemala.
With a network of collaborators that allegedly includes policemen, soldiers, judges and federal congressmen, El Faro stated that the Texis Cartel had turned itself into one of the key players for anyone seeking to smuggle drugs through this small Central American nation. Efforts to build a criminal case against the group have gone nowhere. This is despite the government’s longstanding awareness of the gang's existence, according to reports seen by El Faro, and the fact that the group’s founders allegedly include high-profile public figures.
The story began with Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo." Salazar is best known as a prominent hotelier and as a heavyweight in the world of Salvadoran football. El Faro said that authorities had identified him as a big figure in the drug trade since at least 2000. The newspaper's sources said he was the cornerstone of the Texis Cartel, which is based in Metapan, a small town in Santa Ana department.
Joining him in the organization's leadership are, according to the report, Juan Umaña Samayoa, the mayor of Metapan, and Roberto Herrera, alias "El Burro." Other alleged key allies include prominent politicians such as Armando Portillo Portillo, the mayor of Texistepeque, and Reynaldo Cardoza, a federal congressman.
Unlike some of their counterparts in Guatemala, the Texis Cartel capos do not appear to work for the Mexican gangs that receive the drugs coming out of the Little Pathway, nor the Colombian gangsters supplying them. They are free agents, offering their smuggling networks to whoever is willing to pay for them. Their business will likely be affected by a building project that will turn portions of El Caminito into paved highway. This could either mean that the route gets quicker to travel along, helping the group transport drugs more easily, or that it will be better monitored by the authorities.
Basing their report on extensive interviews and three classified reports, the investigators from El Faro said that the Texis cohorts have used their extensive business empires to launder drug profits. The report also alleged that the group have capitalized on their political connections to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in government loans, despite their connections to organized crime.
Excerpted from the report:
The police, the army, and the justice department know Chepe Diablo. The intelligence reports obtained in this investigation clearly say that he is one of the bosses of the cartel that controls the route that begins in San Fernando. The route runs south until Dulce Nombre de Maria, where it turns toward the west, passes through Nueva Concepcion and arrives at the city of Metapan, in the upper left corner of the Salvadoran map, on the border with Guatemala. This path that drugs travel is the route that is currently on the verge of getting a promotion thanks to the opening of a new highway, the Longitudinal Highway of the North. The police that investigate Salazar and his group call the cartel’s area of operation the Northern Cocaine Route or the Little Pathway.
The drugs that pass through San Fernando mostly come from the Atlantic coasts of Honduras and arrive in Honduras from two primary places. By sea, the go-fast boats originating in Colombia cross the abandoned Nicaraguan Caribbean making brief stopovers until arriving at the Honduran border department Gracias a Dios. By air, the planes descend in the Honduran jungle department Olancho or in the border between both nations marked by the Rio Coco. The drugs are carried along routes cutting through the central Honduran region until arriving at Ocotepeque department, which borders the Salvadoran city San Fernando, in Chalatenango department.
San Fernando is the transfer point where the Hondurans hand over the shipment to the Salvadorans, in a journey directed by Colombians and Mexicans. A highway that moves millions of dollars in profits for its controllers disguised as businessmen, ranchers, mayors, police, gang members, coyotes, and congressmen. Each one plays a role: the police corrupted by drug traffickers watch over and transport the drugs, remove inspection checkpoints, warn of coming operations; the mayors give building permits, formalize business arrangements, are privileged informants, and, in one case, even the leader of the group; the gang members kill and traffic in local markets; the deputies give access to the high strata of power; and some judges and prosecutors take care to block any attempt to prosecute with the most precise [application of] bureaucratic force.
The members of the Texis Cartel meet and come to agreements, but it is not a vertical structure. El Burro has one chain of people that follow him, Chepe Diablo has another, and the mayors of Metapan and of Texistepeque do as well, just as do the deputy from the PCN and his cousin, the former deputy from the PDC. These structures, the reports tell us, are local and collaborate on operations. The capos from the Texis Cartel come to agreements, they co-ordinate.