HomeNewsBriefUS Surveillance Tracks Central America Gangs
BRIEF

US Surveillance Tracks Central America Gangs

BARRIO 18 / 9 JUL 2013 BY JAMES BARGENT EN

Surveillance carried out by US authorities shows the MS-13 and Barrio 18 street gangs in Central America are in constant contact with their US counterparts, supporting claims that the maras have evolved into genuine transnational organized crime groups.

Telephone wiretaps monitoring gang communications show how the leadership of the "mara" street gangs coordinate criminal activities between Honduras, El Salvador, and the United States, reported Honduran newspaper La Prensa.

Investigations by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) also showed how money was channeled to the gang leadership via "hormiga" (ant) smuggling -- a method of smuggling that involves multiple small transfers of cash, often no more than $100 at one time. 

In the United States, the gangs have established a presence in Washington DC, Virginia, and California -- in particular Los Angeles.

InSight Crime Analysis

In October 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). In June 2013, this was followed by the addition of six MS-13 leaders to the Treasury Department's list of  Specially Designated Nationals.

These moves on the part of US authorities proved controversial: even El Salvador President Mauricio Funes weighed in, accusing the US of "over-estimating the gangs."

Reports of the ICE's tracking of the gangs' transnational communications and money transfers lend credence to the contentious designations by the Treasury Department. US authorities have previously observed that some gang leaders based in Central America have communicated regularly with gangs cells in the US. There has been one documented case in which an MS-13 leader contacted fellow gang "clique" members in Maryland in order to coordinate assassinations and collect debt payments, as InSight Crime has previously reported

The gangs certainly operate transnationally to an extent -- they are able to use their networks across all the countries where they operate to carry out cross-border crimes. However, they fundamentally remain a loose-knit network, more akin to criminal franchises than a genuine mafia structure, such as Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, and claims that rank them alongside such organizations should be treated with caution.

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

BARRIO 18 / 25 APR 2021

The ideas of masculinity, discrimination and homophobia within El Salvador's gangs are at the heart of "Unforgivable," a documentary who…

BOLIVIA / 29 DEC 2022

The US is losing allies in Latin America just as production of cocaine, fentanyl, and other synthetic drugs is going…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 4 OCT 2022

Corruption, no supervision, and poor legislation have led to Latin American military weapons ending up in criminal hands.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…