HomeNewsPanic Over Gang Exodus from El Salvador, But Few Arrested

Panic Over Gang Exodus from El Salvador, But Few Arrested


Since El Salvador's government began a campaign of mass arrests two months ago in a gang crackdown, fewer than 60 suspected gang members fleeing the country have been arrested in Honduras and Guatemala – a figure that calls into question the beefed-up security and panicked official rhetoric.

The latest arrest was on May 30, when Guatemalan authorities detained an alleged Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang member in the border department of Jutiapa, according to a news release from the Interior Ministry. Officials said in the release that authorities had arrested 43 suspected gang members from El Salvador since March 29, when Guatemala launched its own security campaign in response to El Salvador's state of emergency.

On March 27, El Salvador's legislature approved emergency powers that loosened rules on arrests and suspended civil liberties after a record-setting weekend of gang killings. Since then, authorities have jailed more than 36,000 people suspected of being gang members.

Yet the 43 arrests in Guatemala account for less than two percent of the nearly 2,700 people deported from the country for migration issues during its security operation from March 29 to May 25.

SEE ALSO: New Revelations Herald Grim Future for El Salvador’s Security

In neighboring Honduras, authorities reported the capture of 16 alleged Salvadoran gang members since the start of El Salvador's state of emergency, according to a May 13 report by news outlet Proceso.

Honduran and Guatemalan authorities both launched new operations to boost security along their borders with El Salvador, including increased numbers of checkpoints, police officers and even anti-gang units, which were positioned on the borders at the end of March.

Both countries have also recently stepped up cooperation with Salvadoran authorities in order to coordinate security efforts and speed up the deportation of suspected gang members.

Four suspected gang members were arrested in Belize as of early May, according to a local news report.

InSight Crime Analysis

The hard-charging campaigns by the Honduran and Guatemalan authorities in response to the supposed mass migration of El Salvador's gangs are out of proportion to the threat. Instead, a gang expert told InSight Crime, these governments should be focused on the movement of a few gang leaders, the already-entrenched nature of these gangs in their countries and the larger civilian exodus.

Honduran authorities may be reacting to how a 2016 Salvadoran gang crackdown led to the birth of a violent MS13 clique there. However, the cell mostly comprised locals led by a senior Salvadoran gang boss, known by the alias “Isaías.”

The El Salvador government, for its part, appears to have not been forthright with neighboring Guatemala about the release of a dangerous gang member there. In early May, news outlet El Faro published a bombshell report that revealed an audio clip in which Carlos Marroquín, the head of the government’s Social Fabric Reconstruction Unit (Unidad de Reconstrucción del Tejido Social), claims he released MS13 gang leader Elmer Canales Rivera, alias "Crook," from prison and drove him to Guatemala. Crook, a member of the MS13's leadership board known as the Ranfla Nacional, is wanted by the US on terrorism charges.

SEE ALSO: Are MS13 Leaders Wanted for Extradition to US Free in El Salvador?

“Due to its political, diplomatic and symbolic implications, Crook’s escape is more worrying than the migration of 100 gang members,” said Juan Martínez d'Aubuisson, a Salvadoran anthropologist and gang expert.

Crook "got out with the intention of establishing new points, new hubs and new international connections for the Mara Salvatrucha," he told InSight Crime.

Yet it is not just criminals fleeing El Salvador's sweeping arrests, which include many reports of arbitrary arrests of citizens. Fear of such detentions has led many people to leave their homes, according to Martínez d'Aubuisson.

“There’s a lot of people whose strategy to protect themselves, and above all their [teenage sons], is to flee El Salvador,” he said.

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.


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.


Related Content

HONDURAS / 19 JAN 2022

The MS13 has grown rich by controlling the way trash is collected and dumped in parts of Honduras.


A month after El Salvador’s government introduced Bitcoin as a national currency, an illegal corner of the new economy has…

COCAINE / 20 JUN 2023

The acquittal of "El Barney" raises questions about El Salvador's approach to targeting gang leaders amid the state of exception.

About InSight Crime


InSight Crime Contributes Expertise Across the Board 

22 SEP 2023

This week InSight Crime investigators Sara García and María Fernanda Ramírez led a discussion of the challenges posed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s “Total Peace” plan within urban contexts. The…


InSight Crime Cited in New Colombia Drug Policy Plan

15 SEP 2023

InSight Crime’s work on emerging coca cultivation in Honduras, Guatemala, and Venezuela was cited in the Colombian government’s…


InSight Crime Discusses Honduran Women's Prison Investigation

8 SEP 2023

Investigators Victoria Dittmar and María Fernanda Ramírez discussed InSight Crime’s recent investigation of a massacre in Honduras’ only women’s prison in a Twitter Spaces event on…


Human Trafficking Investigation Published in Leading Mexican Newspaper

1 SEP 2023

Leading Mexican media outlet El Universal featured our most recent investigation, “The Geography of Human Trafficking on the US-Mexico Border,” on the front page of its August 30…


InSight Crime's Coverage of Ecuador Leads International Debate

25 AUG 2023

This week, Jeremy McDermott, co-director of InSight Crime, was interviewed by La Sexta, a Spanish television channel, about the situation of extreme violence and insecurity in Ecuador…