Gangs Threaten Salvadorans Living in US

The Salvadoran government recently introduced a program that allows citizens of the Central American nation who live in the United States to report crimes that occurred in their home nation.

The program, known as Denuncia Express ("Express Complaint"), was set up to deal with widespread extortion attempts by El Salvador’s violent street gangs, who threaten to harm family members of Salvadorans living in the U.S. if they don’t send money to gangs in El Salvador.

Started back in December of 2010 in Washington D.C., the Salvadoran government plans to expand the program in the U.S. Under the Express Complaint, Salvadorans speak confidentially to a police representative attached to El Salvador’s diplomatic mission and the rep reports back to police in the country about crimes originating in the Central American nation.

“To date 181 cases have been handled, and this has resulted in 38 arrest warrants, of which 31 are in the hands of justice and other cases are in the process," said El Salvador’s ambassador to the U.S. Francisco Altschul, according to Salvadoran tabloid La Prensa Grafica.

Altschul added that part of the success of the project is the privacy and confidentiality in which the Salvadoran representative handles the cases.

In one case, the information given to Salvadoran officials led to an extortion job in a prison in the Salvadoran city of Usulután and executed by former inmates.

“We are facilitators of the acquisition of information,” said Salvadoran police Commissioner Chávez Valiente.

While a truce between the country’s two main gangs has effectively cut the country’s soaring murder rate in half since March of this year, the country still remains rife with violence and extortion. The United Nations reported in February of this year that El Salvador had 66 murders per 100,000 people.

The gangs also use extortion as a vital source of income.

Gang members have been known to target Salvadorans with family members living in the U.S. or force people with family members in prison to wire money to U.S.-based gang members.

“These cases are particularly difficult for authorities to crack, due to their transnational nature and the fact that US victims are often undocumented and so may be reluctant to report the crime,” wrote Christopher Looft of Insight Crime.

Both of El Salvador’s largest gangs – Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 – originated in Los Angeles' immigrant communities before spreading throughout Central America due to deportations. Both gangs have also moved across the United and have a large presence in the Washington D.C.’s Salvadoran community.

“It's one of the most violent street gangs in the country,” wrote the Washington Examiner about MS-13. “They're the largest of the dozens of street gangs in the D.C. region, experts say, with at least 3,000 members and 100 separate "cliques."

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