Last Monday, May 16, El Faro published a bombshell of a report detailing the activities and connections of the Texis Cartel, an organized crime network that has operated in Santa Ana and Chalatenango since at least 2000. The report exposes what appears to be the largest drug-trafficking network operating in El Salvador, and the involvement of officials from all levels of government.
The El Faro alleges that Salvadoran businessman José Adán Salazar Unaña, also known as “Chepe Diablo,” leads the Texis Cartel (Texis is an abbreviation for the city of Texistepeque located in Santa Ana) along with several local politicians. The Cartel controls the Northern Cocaine Route, also called El Camino or El Caminito. Unlike other organizations that work for one of the large, international cartels, the Texis Cartel operates more like a free agent. They contract with the Sinaloa or Golf Cartels, the Zetas, or anyone else willing to pay them to transport contraband. Shipments of cocaine often arrive by air to the Honduran border where they taken across the Salvadoran border into San Francisco, Chalatenango. The Texis Cartel then moves the shipment through Chalatenango to Metapán, Santa Ana before going on to Guatemala and up to the U.S. markets. In addition to trafficking, the Texis Cartel has an extensive money laundering operation.
(video credit-El Faro)
To ensure it is able to move drugs and other contraband around with impunity, the Cartel pays off police, soldiers, mayors, diputados (representatives in the National Legislative Assembly), farmers, local businesses, street gangs, and others. The police are paid to guard and transport drugs, prevent arrests, and advise others of investigations. Local mayors are paid to approve construction projects, incorporate businesses used for money laundering and fronts for trafficking, and provide information. Street gangs serve as assassins for the Cartel and sell drugs in local markets. Representatives in the National Legislative Assembly provide leaders of the Cartel with access to the highest levels of power in the Salvadoran government. The Cartel also pays off judges and officials in the attorney general’s office to terminate investigations into their activities. Of course, not everyone in the Salvadoran Civil National Police and attorney general’s office is corruptible, but those who have tried to investigate have encountered significant obstacles within their own departments.
The El Faro report also provides information on the Cartel’s leader, Salazar Umaña. The 62-year-old alleged crime boss is a prominent businessman who owns hotels, funds a soccer team in Metapán and is president of a large soccer division. He is also a successful cattle farmer. Over the past five years, Salazar Umaña reported over $30 million in income from his business activities. In 2008 alone, while others were struggling through the global economic crisis, the crime boss reported an income of $9 million. In response to El Faro’s investigation, Salazar Umaña stated that, “When one has struggled all his life to be an honest person, when one cannot even imagine it, they involve him in things that don’t make sense. We don’t know why they have fabricated these things, we don’t know who invented them or what they hope to gain from it.”
The El Faro report also alleges that Juan Umaña Samayoa, the mayor of Metapán, Santa Ana, is a close associate of Salazar Umaña and another leader of the Texis Cartel. In a video interview posted on the mayor’s official website, Mayor Umaña Sama calls on investigators to look into who is responsible for making these accusations, which he argues are false and only meant to discredit and harm him. The Mayor defends Salazar Umaña as an honorable and hardworking person who knows a lot of people in the community and in the national government. He also says that the people who are responsible for the accusations are people who want to hurt El Salvador and have political motives.
(video credit- Metapanecos.com)
Other prominent politicians mentioned in connection with the Texis Cartel are Armando Portillo Portillo, the mayor of Texistepeque, and Reynaldo Cardoza, who represents the province of Chalatenango in the National Legislative Assembly. So far, all of the politicians named in the case are from the National Conciliation Party (PCN, in Spanish), and they all deny being involved in the Texis Cartel.
Part of the significance of the report is that it provides specific examples of how drug trafficking and organized crime has infiltrated local and national governments, and all other segments of society. While street gangs are blamed for the high rates of violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, they are often used as a smokescreen to hide the activities of the more sophisticated organized crime networks with international connections. Street gangs are involved, but so are prominent businessmen, mayors, police officers, military soldiers and officers, and officials within the national government.
The Texis Cartel is one network that covers Santa Ana and Chalatenango, but there are surely others. Similar organized crime networks likely operate along the coast, trafficking drugs and other contraband through El Salvador and on to Guatemala and Honduras. Since April, for example, the Salvadoran police and the U.S. DEA uncovered three shipments of chemicals that entered El Salvador through the port in Adcajutla, Sonsonate, and were bound for laboratories in Guatemala that would have used them to produce crystal meth. The size and value of the shipments indicates a sophisticated network of traffickers. Other networks likely control other border regions such as Cabañas, Morazán, San Miguel, and others.
The Texis Cartel seems to have been in operation for over ten years, and, as the El Faro report points out, spanned at least three presidential administrations (Flores, Saca, and Funes) and five directors of the national police. Investigators wrote their first report back in 2000, but only last week did the Supreme Court and President Funes call on the attorney general to investigate or open their own investigation. Last Tuesday, Attorney General Romeo Barahona said that an investigation into the Cartel is underway, but he wouldn’t release any details.
Last week, a reader of the Metapán website commented on Mayor Umaña Samayo’s video response to the accusations, calling on the people of Metapán to open their eyes to the kind of mayor they have. People throughout El Salvador should follow this reader’s advice and determine whether their local governments and national representatives are serving their interests or others. To be certain, some of El Salvador’s local governments are hard working and strive to serve their communities. But upon examination, the citizens of many municipalities would have to come to terms with the common knowledge that their local leaders and even representatives in the national government are corrupt and involved in organized crime. Only when people begin openly addressing the problem and holding their elected representatives to a higher standard will El Salvador be able to address the detrimental impact that organized criminal networks like the Texis Cartel is having throughout the country.