According to police intelligence, El Salvador gangs are expanding into loans, security services, and legal businesses, which officials claim is a sign that criminal groups are utilizing the gang truce to expand their control over communities.
Police reports obtained by La Prensa Grafica suggest gangs in San Vicente department are developing a raft of new strategies to expand their influence and wealth. Among them are offering loans at five percent interest to small businesses, opening their own businesses in sectors such as trading motorbike-taxis, and even organizing meetings with communities to inform them the gangs would be responsible for "citizen security."
The reports cite testimonies of gang members, who say that since the ceasefire agreement between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs was signed last year, local factions have operated under orders not to attract attention by killing or extorting in their own territories, but they remain free to do so elsewhere.
According to an unnamed police chief cited by La Prensa Grafica, the gangs are already preparing for the end of the truce, by using the ceasefire to stockpile weapons and vehicles and diversify their revenue sources.
InSight Crime Analysis
Assuming that the police intelligence cited by La Prensa Grafica is reliable, the reports point to an interesting evolution in the gangs' modus operandi, motivated by a willingness to seek out new sources of income.
If, as the police suggest, this is a ploy to deepen their control over communities and part of a strategy to use the gang truce to build up strength, then this is an extremely worrying development and feeds into the worst fears surrounding the truce.
A more optimistic reading would be that the truce has prompted gangs to try and diversify away from violent criminal activities. However, even if this is the case, this development must be monitored carefully, as activities such as security and loans can quickly deteriorate into criminality and violence if left in the hands of gang members accustomed to operating in the criminal world.