Police in El Salvador say the country's gangs are "mutating" and becoming more deeply involved in drug trafficking, a development that adds to fears the gangs have used the truce between them to increase their strength and reach.
El Salvador's anti-narcotics division (DAN) reported capturing 1,036 gang members this year for drug related crimes, nearly twice the 2012 number of 590. They also said they "dismantled" 29 drug trafficking structures, counting among them transport group the Texis Cartel, reported La Prensa Grafica.
"Soon it will not seem strange to us that they are fully dedicated to drug trafficking," said Deputy Director of the National Police Hector Mendoza Cordero. He indicated the gangs would in turn begin to decrease their involvement in crimes like extortion.
The DAN also reported that cocaine seizures nearly doubled this year, rising from 363.5 kilos in 2012 to 789.5 kilos in 2013.
InSight Crime Analysis
In October 2012, the United States made the contentious decision to designate the MS13 a transnational criminal organization (TCO), arguing the street gang was involved in cross-border criminal activities, including international drug trafficking. While there has been at least one case of an MS13 member deeply involved in international cocaine transportation, this has until now remained the exception and gang members are typically more peripherally involved in the trade.
However, these latest comments and figures from the police add to concerns that the MS13 have used the truce with rivals Barrio 18 -- which was signed in March 2012 -- to strengthen drug ties and expand territorially. These concerns have been voiced by critics of the truce such as current Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo, as well as independent analysts, including Douglas Farah of the International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC). Earlier this year, Farah reported certain cliques of the MS13 have developed ties with the Texis Cartel and Mexico's Zetas during the truce.
Further evidence the MS13 is increasingly operating as a coordinated cross-border organization came with the arrest in El Salvador of two top leaders of the MS13 in Guatemala. The pair had allegedly come to meet with the Salvadoran Centrales Locos Salvatruchas clique of the MS13, which authorities say is deeply involved in arms trafficking and extortion.