HomeNewsFired El Salvador Prison Workers Claim Irregularities Facilitated Gang Negotiation
NEWS

Fired El Salvador Prison Workers Claim Irregularities Facilitated Gang Negotiation

BARRIO 18 / 1 MAR 2022 BY SCOTT MISTLER-FERGUSON EN

Fired prison employees in El Salvador have claimed they witnessed negotiations among government officials and imprisoned gang leaders, adding weight to allegations the country's prisons director helped broker a pact with the street gangs.

While protesting their dismissal in downtown San Salvador, several prison workers claimed to have been privy to irregularities in the jail system related to the negotiations, including orders to remove surveillance systems and to not record entries of state officials in logbooks, La Prensa Gráfica reported. Since October, some 500 penitentiary system employees have reportedly been dismissed with little explanation, other than a brief letter from El Salvador's deputy justice minister and prisons director, Osiris Luna, according to a spokesperson at the protest.

The allegations come less than a year after a scrapped criminal investigation linked Luna to secret negotiations between government officials and gang leaders held in different prisons. The talks were purportedly part of a nationwide agreement whereby the gangs lower homicide rates in exchange for prison privileges, among other concessions.

"They dismissed [the employees] because they are afraid that they will talk about the reality of what happened and is still happening inside the penitentiary centers," said Stanley Quinteros, a spokesperson for the prison workers. "We are referring to the negotiations between the government and the gangs," he added.

SEE ALSO: US Blacklists El Salvador Officials, Bolstering Accusations of Gang Pacts

Another representative for the dismissed employees said El Salvador prison officials went so far as to transport gang-affiliated inmates to hospitals where they held meetings with other gang members.

The accusations come after the US Treasury Department blacklisted Luna in December 2021. In a statement, Treasury said Luna "led, facilitated and organized a number of secret meetings involving incarcerated gang leaders, in which known gang members were allowed to enter the prison facilities and meet with senior gang leadership."

Treasury added in the statement that "these meetings were part of the government of El Salvador's efforts to negotiate a secret truce with gang leadership."

Luna has denied negotiating with the gangs and has yet to comment on the latest accusations from the fired employees.

InSight Crime Analysis

While both Luna and El Salvador President Nayib Bukele have deflected accusations of a quid pro quo with jailed gang leaders to lower homicides, the declarations from fired prison employees add to a trove of evidence that the administration was looking to cover its tracks when it came to gang negotiations.

The declarations appear to corroborate previous reports implicating Luna in the alleged gang negotiations, including surveillance images from inside a prison showing him alongside men in balaclavas, who prosecutors later concluded were government officials sent to meet with gang leaders. The images, first revealed in a 2021 investigation by the El Faro media group, bolstered claims that Luna flouted prison protocols by authorizing the entry of unidentified visitors for the covert meetings.

The report also revealed how El Salvador prosecutors found evidence that Luna had ordered the removal of hundreds of prison logbooks and hard drives documenting the unofficial visits in two separate prisons.

SEE ALSO: Top El Salvador Officials Embroiled in Food Aid Theft Investigation

Luna was first linked to the gang negotiations in a separate El Faro report, published in 2020, that cited prison logbooks documenting 12 visits by the prison director to various jails where he purportedly met with gang members. For several visits, Luna allegedly instructed penitentiary officials not to write down the full names of the visitors who accompanied him.

It is not the first time Luna has faced corruption allegations. The US Treasury Department has also accused him of stealing and reselling food earmarked for pandemic relief.

El Salvador has experienced a drastic reduction in violence in recent years under President Bukele, who has long attributed the sharp decline to his flagship national security plan. But mounting evidence of an informal pact with the country's main street gangs has undermined those claims.

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

EL SALVADOR / 15 MAY 2013

Over 250 police suspected of ties to drug trafficking will be transferred out of their posts in western El Salvador…

AYOTZINAPA / 12 MAR 2019

The Mexican government recently issued a public apology to the families of five young people that were forcibly disappeared…

ELITES AND CRIME / 8 MAY 2014

The former interim governor of Mexico's southwest Pacific state of Michoacan has been sent to federal prison for alleged Knights…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…

THE ORGANIZATION

Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…