An indictment by the Prosecutor’s Office filed against 13 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in a federal court in the State of New York accuses two senior officials of the Government of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele of having negotiated with the gang a reduction of homicides in exchange for benefits between the years 2019 and 2021. According to the document made public on Thursday by the Department of Justice, the executive of the millennial president who is now leading a “war” against gangs first opted for a negotiation for at least two years to achieve a reduction in homicides that would benefit his popularity.
Although the indictment was formally filed with the New York district court on August 22, 2022, it was not made public until Thursday, after the capture of three gang leaders who were hiding and operating in Mexico and who are among the 13 defendants. The three captured gang members are Vladimir Antonio Arevalo Chavez, alias Monserrat Vampire Criminals; Walter Yovani Hernandez Rivera, known as Baxter of Park View, and Marlon Antonio Menjivar Portillo, alias Park View Red.
The tax document details a series of transnational criminal activities by MS-13, but also notes the gang’s secret negotiations with previous Salvadoran governments as well as the current one. According to the account presented in court, since Bukele came to power in June 2019, two high-ranking officials of his Administration met repeatedly with gang leaders inside maximum security prisons and on some occasions were accompanied by others. gang leaders who enjoyed freedom. The subjects entered the prisons wearing dark clothing, face coverings, and long-sleeved shirts to cover their tattoos.
According to the indictment, Bukele officials achieved a drastic reduction in homicides to strengthen his popularity in exchange for prison benefits, law modifications for gang members, and reductions in sentences. The gang also offered to exert its influence on its members, family members, and inhabitants of the controlled communities to guarantee the victory of President Bukele’s party, Nuevas Ideas, in the mayoral and deputy elections held in February 2021.
In exchange, the gang also requested a guarantee of non-extradition of the top leaders to the United States. Between 2021 and 2022, the United States Department of Justice requested the extradition of 12 members of MS-13 who are part of the leadership of the gang called ranfla. However, until today, the Government has not acceded to the request.
One of the leaders requested in extradition is Elmer Canales Rivera, alias The Crook. Canales Rivera was captured in El Salvador in February 2021. Four months after his capture, the United States requested his extradition. However, “the Government of El Salvador released Canales Rivera from custody, despite INTERPOL’s Red Notice and the pending extradition request from the United States,” the document states.
In May 2022, the Salvadoran digital media The lighthouse published a series of audios in which Carlos Marroquin, director of Tejido Social, is heard saying that he himself had released Crook from prison and later left him in Guatemala to show “loyalty and trust” to the gang. A year before, The lighthouse He also published that the Bukele government negotiated with the gangs and tried to hide the evidence.
MS-13 Terrorism Operations
According to the document, after the truce was broken in early 2015, the gang began to organize a response and ordered all its “programs” to raise money to buy weapons and created a team of 200 gang members to give them special training in fields military type. The objective, according to the tax investigation, was to kill Salvadoran police officers.
MS-13 managed to get its cells in the United States to raise money and send it to El Salvador through third parties, while its representatives in Mexico were in charge of obtaining the weapons. Also, in retaliation, MS-13 ordered the assassination of an FBI agent. Although that fact was not executed.
Expansion of MS-13 in Mexico
The document details that MS-13 created a program called “Mexico” and sent representatives of the ranfla to that country to grow and improve its structure with the idea of having a kind of second command in case the Salvadoran government managed to dismantle it.
They also used control of the route to move MS-13 leaders into the United States and to detect enemies or defectors from the same gang fleeing to the United States.
Currently, the Mexican authorities report an increase in gang members in Mexico who are arriving through the southern border as one of the effects of the “war against gangs” that has achieved the dismantling of MS-13 in El Salvador. However, there are no signs that the structure is strengthening in Mexico.