Narcotics trafficking in El Salvador

The US State Department released its 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report today. An excerpt from the report discussing El Salvador follows:
Status of Country. El Salvador remains a transit country for cocaine and heroin from the Andean region of South America, en route to the United States. While it remains difficult to determine reliable estimates of quantities flowing through El Salvador land routes or territorial waters, USG experts estimate that approximately 400 metric tons of cocaine flows through the Eastern Pacific region. In 2009 the Government of El Salvador (GOES) continued to target maritime and land trafficking of cocaine and heroin along its coastline and overland routes, as well as narcotics-related money laundering. El Salvador hosts a Cooperative Security Location (formerly known as the Forward Operating Location) at Comalapa airport. The base is crucial to regional detection and interception efforts. Transnational street gangs are involved in street-level drug sales but not major trafficking....
Corruption. The GOES does not as a matter of policy encourage or facilitate illicit production or distribution of narcotics, psychotropic drugs, or other controlled substances, nor does it launder proceeds from illegal drug transactions. No senior Salvadoran government officials are known to engage in, encourage, or facilitate the illicit production or distribution of drugs, nor the laundering of proceeds from illicit drug transactions. Shortly after winning the March 2009 Presidential elections, Mauricio Funes of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) announced that his government would conduct investigations of allegations that former high-ranking members of the DAN are linked to narcotics traffickers. It is not clear at this point whether these allegations, so far unsubstantiated, are primarily political in nature, or, in fact, reflect a legacy of narcotics-fueled corruption...

The Road Ahead. El Salvador’s ability to investigate and prosecute criminal activity would be enhanced by passage of pending legislation for asset forfeiture and wiretaps. Although the Salvadoran Congress voted in 2009 to amend the constitution to allow for use of wiretaps and other electronic intercepts, they have yet to pass implementing legislation to allow prosecutors and police to begin using the new investigative tools.

El Salvador also lacks the basic ability to investigate and prosecute financial crime. Institutional shortcomings in the Attorney General’s FIU leave the country dangerously vulnerable to financial crime and money laundering. As remittances remain an important sector of the Salvadoran economy, we encourage the GOES to carefully monitor this activity to ensure that remittances are not a cover for money laundering. The GOES can also ensure that sufficient resources are provided to the overburdened Attorney General’s office, as well as to the financial crime and narcotics divisions of the National Civilian Police.

On a broader level, El Salvador could enhance its drug control efforts further by providing additional manpower, resources, and equipment to the National Civilian Police units on the front lines of the fight against narcotics traffickers. Additional measures, such as implementation of wire tap enabling legislation and establishing an asset forfeiture regime, would also be very welcome indications of the GOES’s sincerity in addressing narcotics-fueled transnational crime.