Salvadoran gangs akin to terrorists, FBI agent says
Violent street gangs in El Salvador -- most with roots in Los Angeles -- are a threat to national security in both the United States and Central America, just like domestic terrorists. That's according to the top FBI agent stationed in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.
Leo Navarrete, legal attache at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, told La Prensa Grafica (link in Spanish) that authorities are on the lookout for connections between gangs and big-time drug traffickers, whose operations are spreading across Central America as the trade expands southward beyond Mexico's borders.
"Gangs can be seen as a form of domestic terrorism," Navarrete said. "You see them extorting people, bodies in the streets. It is a way to destabilize society."
The numbers of pandilleros in El Salvador began skyrocketing in the 1990s when U.S. authorities deported thousands of Salvadorans to their home country, even though many had lived most of their lives in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities, where the gangs developed. Today they are one ingredient in the social crisis that gives El Salvador one of the highest homicide rates in the region. You can see the video "La Vida Loca" by journalist Christian Poveda about the gangs' lives and rituals. Poveda was killed last year, apparently by the very gangsters he portrayed.
Rising violence has chilled life in El Salvador, two decades after the end of a ruthless civil war.
Just Friday, a Mexican official working on security in El Salvador survived an assassination attempt that killed his wife. The man, Guillermo Medina, was identified in Mexico as an officer of the Mexican Embassy in San Salvador who worked with Interpol.
-- Alex Renderos in San Salvador
Photo: Relatives of gang members cover their faces during a recent demonstration in San Salvador. Credit: Frederick Meza via El Faro, http://www.elfaro.net/