The United States confirmed the pact between Nayib Bukele’s government and a leader of the MS13 gang

Nayib Bukele 3

A luminous image of President Nayib Bukele, created with drones in the sky over San Salvador, culminated the celebrations for the inauguration of the new national library, financed and built by China, on the night of November 14. A day later, the government welcomed the inauguration of the Miss Universe beauty pageant in El Salvador, for which the country paid at least USD 12 million. Official propaganda flooded social networks and the media. But something else happened in recent days that clouded the official festivities: the capture, in Mexico, of a leader of the feared MS13 gang whom the Bukele government protected as part of a governance pact with that criminal organization.

On November 9, a week before the library and Miss Universe, the Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Gráfica, citing an American source, confirmed the capture in Mexican lands of Élmer Canales Rivera, alias Crook or Hollywood Crook, one of the historical members of the table that has been leading the criminal actions of the MS13 for at least two decades, which include extortion, rape, murder, drug trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism among others.

Crook’s capture is not a good deal for Bukele and his government. Between 2020 and 2021, a US task force, named Vulcano and made up of agents from at least three federal police agencies, supported the Salvadoran prosecutor’s office in a massive investigation that revealed the direct participation of at least two high-level Salvadoran officials in the negotiation of that pact.

Following the arrest of the gang leader, the Department of Justice has confirmed that his escape from a Salvadoran prison, in November 2021, occurred thanks to the direct help of Nayib Bukele through “high-level officials of the government of El Salvador” who They took him out of prison even though he still had time to serve, gave him a gun, and took him to the border with neighboring Guatemala. The officials involved are the same ones that Washington has accused of promoting a pact between the Salvadoran government and the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs “in the name of President” Bukele.

When, in the past, journalistic investigations or leaks by US prosecutors have revealed details about the understandings between Bukele and his officials with gang leaders, the reaction of the communication and propaganda apparatus of the Salvadoran ruling party has been to attack those who reveal the information, say that they are fabrications of journalists or, just, remain silent. This time, after Crook’s capture, Bukele did react: he published the emoji of a winking face on X’s account in response to a news story announcing his arrest. Ernesto Castro, the president of Congress and one of the president’s closest allies, spoke in the same way, with an emoji of a chess piece.

Élmer Canales Rivera, alias Crook, former leader of the MS13Élmer Canales Rivera, alias Crook, former leader of the MS13

Crook was arrested in Mexico . The circumstances of that capture are still unclear. Anonymous American sources have assured Salvadoran newspapers that the gang member was arrested in southern Mexico on November 8, but a US agent familiar with the investigations assured Infobae that it was Mexican police who captured him, at least two weeks before, and that Since then, the authorities of Mexico and Washington have refined details of the transfer of Canales Rivera to the Houston international airport, which occurred on November 9, as confirmed by the Department of Justice in a statement.

The truth is that, after arresting him on US soil, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that Canales Rivera will be tried in the Eastern District of New York, where he and 13 other three MS13 leaders were accused of terrorism in December 2020. , when Donald Trump was still president. Between 2021 and 2022, the United States asked El Salvador to extradite Crook and 11 of the defendants in New York.

When that accusation of terrorist acts became public, on January 14, 2021, Canales Rivera was imprisoned in a Salvadoran prison, convicted of homicide. Crook, however, escaped, and had help, which was provided by the Salvadoran government chaired by Nayib Bukele. In July 2022, an investigation published by the digital newspaper El Faro revealed that Carlos Marroquín, Bukele’s presidential secretary, took Canales Rivera out of the prison where he was and took him to Guatemala, from where the gang leader fled to Mexico. By March 2023, Mexican authorities had already located Crook in a neighborhood in the south of Mexico City, as Infobae revealed.

“When the accusation (against Crook and the rest of the MS13 leadership) was revealed in January 2021… the United States presented a red alert from Interpol and submitted a request for the extradition of Canales Rivera to the government of El Salvador (GOES). However, in November 2021, Canales Rivera was released from prison by the Government of El Salvador and then entered Guatemala illegally,” DOJ confirms the help Crook received from the Bukele administration.

In another document published regarding Crook’s recent capture, the Department of Justice reveals another important detail: the Salvadoran government gave the gang member a firearm when it helped him escape from prison. US prosecutors say in a brief presented to the New York court after the capture of Canales Rivera: “ He was escorted from prison by high-level officials of the Salvadoran government, housed in a luxury apartment, he was provided with a firearm, and then he was taken to the border with Guatemala.”

Washington had already named Bukele officials who supported Crook’s escape. One is Marroquín, the presidency’s secretary of reconstruction of the social fabric, and the other is Osiris Luna Meza, director of prisons and vice minister of public security, who has been accused by Salvadoran prosecutors of corruption crimes and to whom human rights organizations have accused of tolerating the death of dozens of people imprisoned during the emergency regime that El Salvador has been experiencing since the measure was decreed in March 2022.

Crook’s capture and new revelations about the gun that Bukele officials gave him when they helped him escape in 2021 occur in a context of diplomatic detente between San Salvador and Washington, which was marked in the first months of Joe’s administration. Biden for the tensions that initially caused the pact with the gangs and Bukele’s illegal actions to control the entire state apparatus, including the appointment of a supreme court and a related attorney general and the preparation for his re-election as president, who is prohibited by the Constitution.

The diplomatic tone has changed in recent months. Senior Biden administration officials, such as the Undersecretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and the Undersecretary of Commerce, traveled to San Salvador and took photos with the president. The tone and actions on the gang issue, however, appear not to have changed.

“He believes that these are two parts of the US government (the diplomatic apparatus and the criminal prosecution apparatus) that do not talk to each other. Crook’s capture occurs through the Vulcan Task Force. I doubt the Department of State (DOS) knew about this before. DOJ is moving aggressively against Bukele’s people, DOS is not. Something similar happened with (former president) Juan Orlando in Honduras,” an investigator who knows closely what Vulcano worked on in the MS13 case and his dealings with Bukele told Infobae.

Deals with the national ranfla

The Department of Justice in Washington says more about Bukele, his relationship with the gangs and the legal facilities that his government and officials related to him have given to the leaders of the MS13.

In the statement they published after Crook arrived in Houston, US prosecutors recall that in addition to the extradition of Canales Rivera, federal authorities have requested Borromeo Henríquez, alias Diablito de Hollywood , another of the historical leaders. “To date, the Government of El Salvador has not extradited any of these defendants,” DOJ claims in its publication of last November 15.

The US government has publicly recalled, in recent hours, that Crook and Hollywood Devil are not just any leaders; Both have been, say North American prosecutors, part of the table of top leaders that has governed the MS13 at least since the mid-2000s. The gang members call that table “the national criminal gang” to differentiate it from the leaders who are not imprisoned. Researchers with whom Infobae has spoken in recent months agree that it was these leaders, those of the prison gang, who led the negotiation with the Bukele government, as they had done in previous administrations, especially with that of former president Mauricio. Funes (2009-2014).

These leaders, US and Salvadoran authorities agree, have been responsible for massacres, for the high homicide rates that El Salvador experienced from the beginning of the century until Bukele strengthened his pact with them, and for carrying out negotiations with government officials.

Furthermore, the United States claims them for having directed, through the prisons in El Salvador, the expansion of criminal activities in several states of the American Union, including New York, where a district court demands their expatriation.

When the pact they had with Bukele was broken, in March 2022, these gangs, still led by leaders like Crook and Diablito, ordered to “open the valves,” which in gang slang means to put as many dead people as possible on the streets. and neighborhoods of the country to advance their positions within the government. The last weekend of that March, gang members killed 87 people in 72 hours. After that, Bukele responded with the emergency regime, legal reforms, the construction of a “mega prison” and the partial dismantling of some gang structures in the territories; He baptized everything “war against gangs.”

The director of prisons of El Salvador, Osiris Luna, accompanies President Nayib Bukele on the inaugural tour of a megaprison.  Luna is accused of agreeing with gangs on behalf of Bukele (Press Secretary of the Presidency/Handout via REUTERS)The director of prisons of El Salvador, Osiris Luna, accompanies President Nayib Bukele on the inaugural tour of a megaprison. Luna is accused of agreeing with gangs on behalf of Bukele (Press Secretary of the Presidency/Handout via REUTERS)

Bukele’s war, however, left the MS13 leaders intact. He helped Al Crook escape, he favored Diablito de Hollywood with constant releases from prison without a court order, and he protected them all from extradition, as the Department of Justice in Washington recognizes today.

The protection that the Bukele government gave to the leaders of the MS13 was strengthened in May 2021, when the recently inaugurated congress with a pro-government majority illegally removed the person who served as the country’s attorney general and appointed Rodolfo Delgado in his place. a former prosecutor of specialized units who, among other things, was the defender of a front man of the gang. In at least one of the extraditable cases, Delgado issued an opinion to the Salvadoran justice system to avoid expatriation; His argument: the United States did not guarantee respect for some rights of gang members, such as avoiding the application of the death penalty, in force in some North American states.

One of the American judges who handled the case against the MS13 leaders, however, had already settled that judicial dispute with Raúl Melara, Delgado’s predecessor whom the Bukelista deputies dismissed. On a trip to Washington, weeks before he was removed from office, US federal authorities promised that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty. This was confirmed to Infobae by Salvadoran agents who knew about Melara’s trip.

Infobae also confirmed, in March of this year, that Mexican authorities had already located Crook in a neighborhood next to the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City at least nine months ago. In El Salvador, upon learning of this news, spokespersons for Bukelism, including Christian Guevara, the head of the legislative bench, said that the government would speak with the Mexican embassy in San Salvador to guarantee that Crook would be sent to El Salvador in case of get arrested. That didn’t happen.

An official who knows the exchanges between US and Mexican authorities about Crook has insisted to Infobae that the Vulcano Task Force, in charge of the case of the Salvadoran gang leaders, already has in its possession details that Canales Rivera has revealed about his dealings with the Bukele government.

Neither the lights that adorned the Salvadoran night on the day the president inaugurated the new national library, nor all the lighting that has accompanied the videos and photos of the Miss Universe candidates, have been able to blur the shadow of Crook or prevent its capture. has once again put on the table the depth of the pact that Nayib Bukele made with the gangs.