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Security Brief: SOUTHCOM Week of April 10, 2022

April 10 - 13, 2022 | Issue 3

Stacey Casas, Jhamil Moya, Daniel Ruiz, SOUTHCOM Team

Léopold Maisonny, Editor; Demetrios Giannakaris, Senior Editor; Jennifer Loy, Chief of Staff

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele[1]

Date: April 10, 2022

Location: El Salvador

Parties involved: Salvadoran government; Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele; US government; US Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Salvatrucha gang; Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz (Blue or Cliper); Edwin Mauricio Rodríguez Morales (Manicomio); Elmer Canales Rivera (Hollywood Crook); gang leaders

The event: On April 10, the US government urged El Salvador to extradite the Salvatrucha gang leaders. Among the gang members accused of various crimes committed in the US are Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz, nicknamed "Blue" or "Cliper,” Edwin Mauricio Rodríguez Morales, alias "Manicomio", and Elmer Canales Rivera, "Hollywood Crook". According to Anthony Blinken, gangs “pose a threat to the national security of El Salvador and the US.” Currently, 14 gang members of the Salvatrucha gang, known as Ranfla Nacional, have pending accounts with the US justice system.[2]

Analysis & Implications:

  • The extradition of Salvadoran gang leaders is unlikely to compel gang members to reduce activity even though it very likely means severe penalties, such as longer prison times. If the extradition of gang leaders is approved, imprisoned senior leaders will likely lose the ability to control criminal acts from prison since they will no longer be in El Salvador. Reduced control of these criminal groups by senior leaders will likely fuel internal wars by those seeking to assume leadership.

  • There is a roughly even chance that President Bukele will agree to cooperate with the US to extradite specific Salvatrucha gang members to encourage diplomatic ties. If cooperation between El Salvador and the US is maintained, it will very likely facilitate the dismantling of these gangs. The dismantling of Salvatrucha leadership will likely leave its occupied territories free, which will likely encourage rival gangs to take control of these territories. Changes in territorial control by criminal groups will likely increase violence and social instability in El Salvador, making it difficult for state and local authorities to provide protection to citizens.

Date: April 12, 2022

Location: Colombia

Parties involved: Cartel de Sinaloa, Jalisco New Generation Cartel; Drug Cartel Los Zetas; Colombian government; Colombian authorities; Colombian armed groups; Mexican cartels; US government; US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); US citizens

The event: On April 12, Colombian authorities reported that Mexican drug cartels are exchanging weapons shipments for tons of drugs with Colombian criminal organizations. Machine guns, assault rifles, and semi-automatic handguns were found to be flowing into Colombia and fueling the deadly struggle between rival traffickers for control of drug routes.[3]

Analysis & Implications:

  • Colombian armed groups will almost certainly continue acquiring illegal weapons to expand into other regions of Colombia, fighting rival groups, and strengthening their zones of influence. Colombian authorities will likely employ additional measures to effectively combat these criminal organizations, such as increasing border patrol and prioritizing eradicating illegal coca crops. They will also likely seek to increase direct attacks of illegal group camps, infiltrations, and captures to combat these criminal groups.

  • Mexican cartels’ exchange of weapons for drugs will very likely facilitate drug production and trafficking activities in Mexico, almost certainly spilling over to neighboring countries such as the US. Increased drug trafficking into the US will very likely increase concern from agencies such as the DEA, which will likely seek to increase its involvement with Mexican authority’s efforts to target drug cartel activity. Increased DEA activities in Mexico will likely lead to increased intelligence sharing between Mexican law enforcement agencies and the DEA, along with joint operations, leading to an increase in arrests and the dismantling of drug trafficking groups.

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[2] Estados Unidos: «Ahora más que nunca, resulta esencial que se extradite a los líderes de pandillas», El Salvador, April 2022, (translated by Daniel Ruiz)

[3] Mexican cartels swap arms for cocaine, fueling Colombia violence, Reuters, April 2022, cas/mexican-cartels-swap-arms-cocaine-fueling-colombia-violence-2022-04-12/



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