On Thursday, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on three leaders of Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13”), a gang of 30,000 members spread throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States. The gang, whose leadership is concentrated in El Salvador, has been listed as a Transnational Criminal Organization since 2012 by the U.S. Department of Treasury for crimes that include human trafficking, drug operations, kidnapping and murder.
One of the founding members of MS-13, José Luis Mendoza Figueroa, was among the three men—all Salvadoran nationals—hit with sanctions. The other two, Élmer Canales Rivera and Eduardo Erazo Nolasco, are members of regional “cliques” that take direction from the gang’s central leadership. The three men are imprisoned in El Salvador, but, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury, have been able to direct gang operations (such as moves into new territories and recruitment of new members) from behind bars.
MS-13 cliques in the United States generate money that is funneled to gang leadership in El Salvador. The sanctions permit the U.S. government to freeze any assets the three men may have in the United States and bans American companies and citizens from doing business affiliated with the gang.
John Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement that “MS-13 ranks among the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world, and poses a direct threat to communities across the United States and Central America […] Today’s designation will disrupt these illicit activities and help to further protect the United States and international financial system from abuse.”
In a related effort to curb Central American gang operations, El Salvador Prisons Director Rodil Hernandez announced from San Salvador on Thursday that 31 gang members, including sanctioned MS-13 member Erazo Nolasco, had been transferred from regular prisons to the isolated maximum security institution Zacatecaluca. Hernandez explained the move was part of the reclassification of the most dangerous prisoners after investigations proved they had ties to recent gang attacks on state institutions.