Six leaders of El Salvador's MS13 street gang escaped from police custody, drawing attention to the role that official corruption plays in hindering criminal justice reform in this Central American nation.
The gang members escaped on August 2 by cutting through the iron bars of their holding cell at a police station in the eastern city of San Miguel, reported El Mundo. The suspects had been transferred from El Salvador's maximum-security prison, Zacatecoluca, and were awaiting a court hearing, which had been suspended due to the gang-enforced bus strike that began early last week.
Two of the gang leaders were recaptured later that same day in southern Honduras near the border with El Salvador, reported La Tribuna. Two additional gang leaders were arrested in El Salvador's northeast department of Morazan on August 3, while the remaining two suspects have yet to be located, according to La Prensa Grafica. (See tweet from El Salvador's National Civil Police below)
One of the individuals recaptured in Honduras, Daniel Antonio Ramirez, alias "Spider," is the head of the Mirada Loca ("Crazy Look") clique of the MS13 gang, reported La Pagina.
Estos son 2 de los reos pendientes de recapturar, toda información puede brindarla al Tel.: 911 Tel.133 y al Tel.122. pic.twitter.com/dK8rmUsCPT
— PNC El Salvador (@PNC_SV) August 3, 2015
InSight Crime Analysis
This embarrassing incident is a stark reminder that despite increasing aggression between gangs and security forces, a number of Salvadoran police officials have been accused of collaborating with gang members. The escaped gang leaders would have likely needed someone on the outside providing them with the necessary tools to cut through the iron bars of their cell. At the very least, the suspects would have probably needed an accomplice to help them flee the police station without attracting the attention of authorities.
The issue of corruption among El Salvador's prison authorities also threatens to derail the government's recent proposal to tackle criminal activity in prisons. Jailed gang members making extortion calls has become such as problem that last year authorities decided to block cellphone coverage within the country's prisons.
Meanwhile, the swift recapture of two fugitive gang leaders in Honduras is further indication Salvadoran gangs are increasingly looking to their northern neighbor as a potential hideout. There have been previous reports of MS13 members fleeing to Honduras in order to escape "intense persecution" in El Salvador. On July 30, Honduran security officials announced they were closely monitoring the border area with the goal of intercepting Salvadoran gang members attempting to enter the country.