HomeNewsBriefAmid Elite Crime Scandals, CentAm Continues Anti-Gang Focus
BRIEF

Amid Elite Crime Scandals, CentAm Continues Anti-Gang Focus

EL SALVADOR / 13 SEP 2017 BY ANGELIKA ALBALADEJO EN

Authorities in Central America have arrested hundreds of suspected gang members in recent days during coinciding operations, but their willingness to mount such large-scale efforts against gangs has not been matched by an equivalent committment to tackle recent allegations of serious official corruption.

Law enforcement bodies in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador -- the "Northern Triangle" of Central America -- arrested nearly 500 gang members in recent days on charges of extortion, homicide and other criminal activities.

Officials described the anti-gang sweeps, dubbed "Operation Regional Shield" ("Operación Escudo Regional"), as transnational and coordinated. But they played out entirely at the local level, and little aside from the timing suggests there was a transnational aspect to the initiative.

El Salvador's Police Commissioner Howard Cotto said on September 12 that 420 suspects had been arrested so far in local operations carried out in his country, including "at least 10 leaders of criminal structures."

The ongoing operation, which officials say has targeted at least 13 "clicas," or cells, of the MS13 gang, has also led to the arrests of several security officials and a former mayor who has been accused of providing cash and weapons to gang members in exchange for their support during his political campaigns.

Guatemala's Attorney General's Office also announced that 358 local police raids in the country had led to 163 arrests on September 11 as part of the "transnational operation against extortion." Firearms, ammunition, vehicles and cocaine were also seized.

The Honduran Attorney General's Office offered public support for the anti-gang efforts, and counted several arrests made as part of an ongoing local security initiative as contributing to Operation Regional Shield.*

Press statements and social media posts by the Attorney General's Offices of all three Northern Triangle countries also cited support from the United States government for the operation.

InSight Crime Analysis

Northern Triangle governments billed Operation Regional Shield as a successful, transnational operation against "criminal structures." But while they may be politically expedient, the mass arrests are unlikely to have any substantial long-term impact on gangs' ability to operate in these countries. And perhaps more concerningly, operations like these may be drawing resources and attention away from investigations into mounting allegations that high-level elites across the region have engaged in criminal activities.

In El Salvador, a series of recent revelations have exposed the extent of the relationship between country's politicians and gangs, the engagement of police officers in death squad activities and alleged government efforts to support a breakaway faction of the MS13. However, official investigations into these incidents have not moved with the same rapidity as the near-daily operations against gangs in the country.

In fact, some current and former top officials accused during a recent trial of orchestrating a gang truce as a "state policy" have not been charged with any crimes. And police accused of belonging to anti-gang death squads have been put on "desk duty," while other officers who allegedly smuggled cell phones and marijuana into prison for gang members have been jailed.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Guatemala too has struggled to proceed swiftly and successfully with probes into elite corruption. The congress recently voted to protect President Jimmy Morales' immunity from prosecution, blocking further investigation into the leader's campaign finances, which may have included contributions from alleged drug trafficker Marlon Francesco Monroy Meoño, alias "El Fantasma."

In a message posted on its official Twitter account, the US embassy attempted to highlight how Guatemalan elites are moving to protect themselves from graft investigations rather than addressing these problems head on. The message followed shortly after news broke that the congress had voted to introduce legislative reforms that would protect politicians from charges related to illegal campaign financing.

(The message reads, "According to Guatemala's Congress: Schools/Highways/Hospitals? = Not a national priority. Reforming campaign finance laws = National priority.)

A former president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, has also been reported to have ties to drug traffickers. His son, Fabio Lobo, was sentenced to more than two decades in prison by a US court recently after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic cocaine. But the elder Lobo remains a free man, and denies any involvement in wrongdoing.

Even as these types of scandals of elite corruption continue to shake the region, the latest arrests in El Salvador and Guatemala suggest that authorities are continuing with business as usual when it comes to localized, heavy-handed anti-gang operations, rather than shifting their efforts towards the elite corruption that facilitates so much criminality in the region.

* This article has been updated to include the information about the US embassy's response to the move by congress, as well as information about Honduras' contribution to Operation Regional Shield.

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

BRAZIL / 22 JAN 2015

By one watchdog's count, about 86 percent of the world's most violent cities are based in Latin America, a phenomenon…

ELITES AND CRIME / 11 AUG 2014

Well over 100 political candidates in Peru have been linked to drug trafficking cases, highlighting the heightened risk of criminal…

BARRIO 18 / 10 SEP 2014

Officials in Guatemala have identified the areas of the capital controlled by the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs, illustrating the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…