A few weeks ago, the Government of El Salvador decided to assign 1,042 more members of its Armed Forces to security operations, working in conjunction with officers of the country’s National Police to reinforce its defence strategy against gangs and other forms of serious criminal activity.
This new detachment of 1,042 means that there is now a total of 9,000 soldiers taking part in what is known as the Territorial Control Plan. This strategic plan was introduced in July 2019, with the aim of recovering areas of the country controlled by gangs and reducing the number of murders and other related crimes.
This new contingent was assigned to patrol duties in areas with the highest levels of criminality.
It is currently estimated that there are some 60,000 gang members active within El Salvador, belonging to three dominant groups: the “Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)”, the “Barrio 18-Sureños”, and the “Barrio 18-Revolucionarios”. The majority of murders taking place in the country are attributed to these three gangs.
In addition to this, El Salvador continues to be a transit point for drug traffic, since it transports its consignments to the United States and other countries, where the gangs play an increasingly active role, given that they control many areas of the country. The gangs have developed from imposing extortion rackets on drug dealers in the areas they control to becoming direct distributors, in addition to being also consumers.
In late 2020 in the city of San Salvador, the authorities succeeded for the first time in dismantling a laboratory of metamphetamines owned by the MS-13 gang. To conceal its activities from the police, the laboratory had operated under the guise of a religious community. The level of consumption of amphetamines in Central America is higher than the global average, which represents a potential market that that the gangs can control in the future through their retail drug distribution networks.
It is currently considered that the gangs have established relationships with certain international drug trafficking organisations, offering a variety of services: guaranteeing security or even transporting the products themselves. They have probably come into contact with considerable quantities of drugs, thus entering directly into this line of illegal activity.
It is for this reason that the number of military contingents is being increased throughout the country. For example, at the start of the year 500 kg of cocaine were intercepted on board a boat sailing in El Salvador territorial waters.