The United States has accused the government of El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele of secretly negotiating a truce with the leaders of the country’s feared MS-13 and Barrio 18 street gangs.
Wednesday’s explosive indictment gets to the heart of one of Bukele’s most hyped successes in office: a drop in the nation’s murder rate.
Bukele’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Bukele vehemently denied similar allegations when they were reported in August 2020 by local news site El Faro.
The US Treasury’s announcement came when it appointed two officials from the Bukele government to impose financial sanctions.
The two officials accused of negotiating directly with the leaders of the gangs were Osiris Luna Meza, head of the Salvadoran penal system and vice minister of Justice and Public Security, and Carlos Amílcar Marroquín Chica, president of the Unit for the Reconstruction of the Social Tissue.
In 2020, the Bukele administration “provided financial incentives to the Salvadoran gangs MS-13 and 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18) to ensure that incidents of gang violence and the number of confirmed homicides were kept low,” the statement said. of the Treasury. “In the course of these negotiations with Luna and Marroquín, the gang leadership also agreed to provide political support to the New Ideas political party in the upcoming elections.”
Bukele’s New Ideas party won the legislative elections earlier this year in a landslide, giving him control of El Salvador’s Congress.
The announcement comes as several former officials from previous administrations are being prosecuted for negotiating a similar pact with the gangs.
Former Attorney General Raúl Melara said he would investigate the El Faro report at that time, but when Bukele’s party took control of Congress, the new lawmakers overthrew Melara and replaced him with someone who was a friend of Bukele.
The US Treasury said an investigation into government officials and gang leaders revealed the secret negotiations. Luna and Marroquín allegedly “directed, facilitated, and organized a series of secret meetings involving incarcerated gang leaders, in which known gang members were allowed to enter prison facilities and meet with high-ranking gang leaders.”
In addition to the economic benefits for gang members, incarcerated leaders received special treatment in prisons, including access to mobile phones and prostitutes. He said Luna also negotiated the support of the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs for Bukele’s national quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wednesday’s designations mean that the assets that Luna and Marroquín have in the United States are blocked and that US citizens are prohibited from any transaction with Luna and Marroquín.
The revelations are sure to increase tensions between Bukele and the Biden administration. After the new congress removed the attorney general and magistrates from the constitutional chamber of the supreme court in May, the US government expressed concern about the direction of the country.
The United States Agency for International Development announced that it would transfer aid from El Salvador’s government agencies to non-governmental organizations. The head of that agency, Samantha Power, then went to El Salvador and gave a speech on the fragility of democracy.
The new attorney general announced in June that the government was canceling the Organization of American States’ anti-corruption mission in El Salvador.
In May and July, the United States government published lists of allegedly corrupt officials in Central America that included the name of Bukele’s chief of staff, Carolina Recinos.
Bukele enjoys extremely high popularity. It entered a political vacuum left by the discredited traditional parties of the left and right that had left a legacy of corruption.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism