The Texis Drug Cartel in El Salvador

The online periodical El Faro has published a major exposé on a drug-trafficking organization in El Salvador known as the Texis Cartel. These narco-traffickers control a route which transports drugs from the town of San Fernando on the northern border with Honduras in Chalatenango to the border with Guatemala in Santa Ana Department. This route basically cuts across the northwest corner of El Salvador.

The website Insight spotlighted the El Faro reporting this week:
With a network of collaborators that allegedly includes policemen, soldiers, judges and federal congressmen, El Faro stated that the Texis Cartel had turned itself into one of the key players for anyone seeking to smuggle drugs through this small Central American nation. Efforts to build a criminal case against the group have gone nowhere. This is despite the government’s longstanding awareness of the gang's existence, according to reports seen by El Faro, and the fact that the group’s founders allegedly include high-profile public figures.
El Faro reveals that the cartel includes well-known business, political and other figures in that part of the country. The head of the cartel, known as "Chepe Diablo," is José Adán Salazar Umaña. Salazar is president of major league soccer in El Salvador, a prominent hotel operator and rancher, and a narco-trafficker. El Faro says that the police, attorney general and army have long known about Salazar's role.

The cartel also includes the mayors of Metapan and Texistepeque and a deputy in the National Assembly.

Here is a translation of a few passages from the lengthy El Faro story provided by Insight:
The police, the army, and the justice department know Chepe Diablo. The intelligence reports obtained in this investigation clearly say that he is one of the bosses of the cartel that controls the route that begins in San Fernando. The route runs south until Dulce Nombre de Maria, where it turns toward the west, passes through Nueva Concepcion and arrives at the city of Metapan, in the upper left corner of the Salvadoran map, on the border with Guatemala. This path that drugs travel is the route that is currently on the verge of getting a promotion thanks to the opening of a new highway, the Longitudinal Highway of the North. The police that investigate Salazar and his group call the cartel’s area of operation the Northern Cocaine Route or the Little Pathway.
The drugs that pass through San Fernando mostly come from the Atlantic coasts of Honduras and arrive in Honduras from two primary places. By sea, the go-fast boats originating in Colombia cross the abandoned Nicaraguan Caribbean making brief stopovers until arriving at the Honduran border department Gracias a Dios. By air, the planes descend in the Honduran jungle department Olancho or in the border between both nations marked by the Rio Coco. The drugs are carried along routes cutting through the central Honduran region until arriving at Ocotepeque department, which borders the Salvadoran city San Fernando, in Chalatenango department.

San Fernando is the transfer point where the Hondurans hand over the shipment to the Salvadorans, in a journey directed by Colombians and Mexicans. A highway that moves millions of dollars in profits for its controllers disguised as businessmen, ranchers, mayors, police, gang members, coyotes, and congressmen. Each one plays a role: the police corrupted by drug traffickers watch over and transport the drugs, remove inspection checkpoints, warn of coming operations; the mayors give building permits, formalize business arrangements, are privileged informants, and, in one case, even the leader of the group; the gang members kill and traffic in local markets; the deputies give access to the high strata of power; and some judges and prosecutors take care to block any attempt to prosecute with the most precise [application of] bureaucratic force.
In light of the El Faro report, Salvadoran officials fell over themselves this week calling for an investigation into drug-trafficking in the northwest of the country. But they had no answers for why there had been no earlier prosecutions when El Faro's report showed that the police had long known about the Texis cartel.

The report is also a potential embarrassment for the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation program with El Salvador.   The major focus of the MCC has been economic development in the northern regions of El Salvador, centering on the construction of the Northern Longitudinal Highway.    That highway happens to follow the same route as the Texis Cartel's drug shipments, and the El Faro report talks about the drug traffickers' appreciation of having a speedier highway for their cargo.

Perhaps more serious is the report by El Faro that development loans from MCC funds have gone to cartel members and facilitated laundering of their drug money.  A $600,000 loan for agricultural development was disbursed to a family with known ties to narco-trafficking in the region.

This story is going to have repercussions for months to come.   Stay tuned.