Corruption, El Salvador Government, Organized Crime, Politics

El Faro Exposes Huge Drug Trafficking Network

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.

Cabanas, violence

Please Support Radio Victoria Today!

On Friday we posted information about more threats against journalists at Radio Victoria. Yesterday our friends at US Sister Cities set up an online petition that we encourage you to sign – just visit change.org and sign up.

They have also put together an email that you can send to the Attorney General Romeo Barahona’s office (hector.burgos@fgr.gob.sv) and the office of David Morales (dmorales@rree.gob.sv), the Director of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

EMAIL TEXT IN ENGLISH:

Subject: Stop Death Threats toward Journalists

Mr. Barahona and Mr. Morales:

I am very concerned about the continued death threats that journalists at Radio Victoria have received between April 30th and May 4th of this year. Prior threats have gone uninvestigated despite numerous calls for their investigation and for the protection of the journalists. As a member of the international community, I am very worried about this attack on human rights and freedom of expression.

In January of 2011, members of the international community called on you to protect Radio Victoria journalists and community leaders in and the department of Cabañas, and to investigate cases of violence toward activists in the region since 2009. By not responding to these demands, the government  has allowed these extermination groups to continue repressing and threatening activists in Cabañas.

I demand that you conduct a full investigation of these threats toward journalists, and that you ensure specialized police protection for all Radio Victoria employees.

The international and Salvadoran community will greatly appreciate your taking steps to investigate these cases and provide protection to those whose lives are in danger.

Sincerely,

EMAIL TEXT IN SPANISH:

Subject: Alto a las Amenazas de Muerte Contra Los Periodistas de Radio Victoria

Estimados Sr. Barahona y Sr. Morales:

Estoy muy preocupado por la nueva olla de amenazas de muerte que han recibido los y las periodistas de Radio Victoria entre 30 de abril y 04 de mayo de este año. Amenazas previas no se han investigado a pesar de los numerosos llamamientos para su investigación y para la protección de los periodistas. Como miembro de la comunidad internacional, estoy muy preocupado por este nuevo ataque contra los derechos humanos y la libertad de expresión.

En enero de 2011, los miembros de la comunidad internacional pidieron que usted protegiera a periodistas de Radio Victoria y los líderes comunitarios del departamento de Cabañas, y que investigara los casos de violencia contra activistas en la región que han seguido desde 2009. La falta de acción  por parte del gobierno ha permitido que estos sigan con sus campañas de terror y represión.

Exijo que se realice una investigación completa de estas amenazas a periodistas, y que se asegure protección policíal especializada para todos los empleados de Radio Victoria.

La comunidad internacional y salvadoreña agradecerá su trabajo para investigar estos casos y asegurar protección a aquellos cuyas vidas están en peligro.

Atentamente,

And yesterday we received an email from Radio Victoria that we want to share:

Everyone at Radio Victoria would like to thank the many people and organizations that have been denouncing the death threats to our workers and also for sending emails and making phone calls to authorities here in El Salvador.

It has been a difficult and busy week, and all the support we have received keeps our spirits up and motivates us to move forward.

It is not possible to give many details about some things we are doing for security reasons. But I would like to quote one of the Radio’s workers:

“I want to say that today more than ever the news show must go forward, we must continue denouncing and making the communities’ voices heard and felt. Radio Victoria’s news team continues on even though we are afraid, I won’t deny that, but the news show can never be silenced.”

Radio Victoria exists because it was born out of and belongs to an heroic and well organized community, and because there is a network of friends and colleagues, which includes each one of you, that believe in Radio Victoria’s mission, stand by the Radio, defend the Radio and denounce cowardly attacks against the Radio.

We are very grateful for your steadfast support and know that together we can overcome the dark forces that seek to impose their will by force and intimidation.

We will continue to keep you all informed as we can.

Thank you again.

As we have stated on this blog before, the youth at Radio Victoria embody the ongoing struggle for freedom and democracy in El Salvador. Please sign the petition and send an email – your support makes a difference!

Corruption, El Salvador Government, International Relations, Mauricio Funes, News Highlights, Organized Crime, U.S. Relations

Talk of an International Commission Against Organized Crime in El Salvador

El Faro posted a story this morning about a growing movement to create an International Commission Against Organized Crime in El Salvador. This Commission, modeled after the CICIG in Guatemala, would investigate and prosecute cases that the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalia, in Spanish) has not taken on. Though the CICIG (the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala) has had its troubles over the last few years, its successes and lessons learned could greatly benefit El Salvador.

Momentum for such a commission has grown out of a general frustration with the Fiscalia, which is led by Attorney General Romeo Barahona, for its failure to investigate drug trafficking and organized crime. Though El Salvador has struggled with organized crime throughout its modern history, drug trafficking has taken off in recent years as cartels have increasingly used Central America to transport their products to the United States markets.

One of the complaints against Fiscal Barahona is that under his leadership, the Fiscalia has gone after low-level gang members while staying away from more difficult cases involving higher-level organized crime syndicates.  A related issue is that the Fiscalia attributes many homicides that appear to be political in nature to gang members (“common crime”) or family issues. An example is the 2009 murder of Marcelo Rivera.  Rodolfo Delgado, the prosecutor and lead investigator, called it a crime of passion committed by four gang members. He also attributed the 2004 murder of union organizer Gilberto Soto to a family disagreement and arrested Soto’s mother-in-law. As in many, many other cases, Barahona and his team of prosecutors seem more interested in depoliticizing murders and steering investigations away from organized crime rather than seeking the truth and justice.

Fiscal Barahona, however, believes an international committee is unnecessary.  In response to the idea of creatingsuch a commission, he stated, “We do not believe it is necessary to create a commission to combat crime. It is better that the resources that it would take be invested in strengthening the Fiscalia and the Police.”

Though it seems early in the process, El Faro reports that the Salvadoran government is taking the steps necessary to create the legal foundation for this international authority. Though the Commission would have to work with Fiscal Barahona, those working on the project realize that it would require a significant amount of autonomy. The Commission would have to be led by someone with the character to take on organized crime-a vast network that includes past and present government officials who have maintained the culture of impunity and gotten rich from illicit activities.

The discussion of a commission is becoming public just days before President Obama is scheduled to visit El Salvador, a visit during which he and President Funes are sure to discuss security and the region’s growing struggle with crime and violence. At the end of January, the Economist reported that El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras make up the most violent region in the world, battlefields aside. Everyday there are new reports about the Zetas and other Mexican cartels setting up camp in Central America where the cost of doing business is less, and there are plenty of corruptible government officials at the local and national levels. President Obama and the US ought to support the idea of an International Commission in El Salvador and provide all of the support and training necessary to ensure its success.