The International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC) recently published a report on gang activity in Central America which has received wide discussion in Salvadoran media and elsewhere. IASC is a think tank which does research and policy analyses on global security issues. The report is titled Central American Gangs and Transnational Criminal Organizations: The Changing Relationships in a Time of Turmoil. The lead author is Douglas Farrah, a senior fellow at IASC.
The report states that it is primarily based on field research consisting of interviews with gang leaders inside and outside of prison during 2012. Most of the gang leaders were from MS-13. Headline grabbing points in the research paper include descriptions of training camps for MS-13 members run by the Zetas Mexican drug cartel on the slopes of the Guazapa volcano, an arms bazaar in the Bajo Lempa region where arms including surface to air missiles are traded, and that the Zetas and MS-13 have reached an alliance for human trafficking from Central America through Mexico.
The report also has a section dealing with the impact of the current gang truce. Here is some of the discussion:
[T]he current truce among the gangs in El Salvador, the subsequent drop in homicide rate, and ongoing negotiations among the gangs and the government, are creating enormous pressures within the gangs. The primary tension is between those on the outside, who were not consulted on the negotiations or the truce, and the leaders inside the prison structure who traditionally hold the reins of leadership.
While so far the membership has remained largely obedient to the gangs’ prison leadership in maintaining the truce, a number of inter-gang killings have occurred. In addition, gang revenue has plummeted. There is the widespread perception among those on the outside that the prison leadership is receiving significant financial benefits from the government for their participation in the truce. The evidence, according to those outside, can be seen in the purchases being made by family members of those in prison (e.g., large screen televisions, vehicles and even houses). .....
However, leaders both on the street and in prison say that their primary source of income – extortion of local business, individuals and commercial activities –will not cease in the near future, even while acknowledging the deep resentment it provokes. The reason, they say, is simple: They must live off of something as they are no longer engaged in murder for hire and other revenue-generating illicit activities, and cannot find legitimate jobs. As a result, extortion remains the bread and butter income that allows the gangs to buy food and pay for shelter.The report is sobering and ought to be read simultaneously with the reports of "violence free cities" negotiated as part of the truce.