Small Wars Journal

El Centro

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #46: Weaponized Drones (Aerial Improvised Explosive Devices) Deployed by CJNG in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán

Mon, 10/05/2020 - 8:41pm
The Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is alleged to have attempted to deploy two weaponsized drones with C4 or similar type explosives against their rivals—the Carteles Unidos (United Cartels)—in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán on 25 July 2020. The weaponized drones were not successfully deployed and were found by a local self-defense group (autodefensas) known as El grupo de autodefensa en Tepalcatepec.

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Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18: Gangs, Terrorists, or Political Manipulation?

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 9:56pm
In January 2020, Guatemalan President Dr. Alejandro Giammattei proposed legislation to categorize the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs as terrorist organizations.In the United States, the Department of Treasury categorized MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization in October 2012 and in July 2020, for the first time, an MS-13 member was charged with terrorism-related offenses. The Constitutional Chambers of the Supreme Court of Justice in El Salvador ruled to reclassify these gangs as terrorist organizations in August of 2015 and in February 2017 Honduras sanctioned terrorist activities by these gangs. This article argues MS-13 and Barrio 18 lack the core component to be classified as terrorist organizations: a political or religious ideology guiding their violence.  

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Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 31: MS-13 East Coast Program Command and Control (C2), Cliques, & Geographic Distribution

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 7:40pm
An MS-13 leader in El Salvador—Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz (a.k.a. “Blue” or “Clipper”)—has been indicted on terrorism charges for his role as the Corredor (Leader) of the gang’s United States East Coast Program. The indictment, by the United States Department of Justice (US DOJ), represents the first ever charging of an MS-13 member for ‘material support to terrorists’ along with other terrorism related offenses in addition to the more traditional racketeering (RICO) and narcotics trafficking charges. It also provides detailed information about the East Coast Program’s command and control (C2) structure and links to El Salvadoran elements of the gang while describing identified US MS-13 cliques and their geographic distribution.

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Eighteenth Street: The Origins of ‘Barrio 18’

Sun, 08/30/2020 - 10:29pm
Eighteenth Street (18th Street) is a gang originating in the Pico-Union District of Los Angeles. It is one of the gangs frequently mentioned in a transnational context and often referred to as a mara—a type of sophisticated gang—due to its presence in El Salvador and other parts of Central America. Eighteenth Street is known as 18th Street, Barrio 18, Calle 18, Mara 18, and M-18 in its various locations. This article summarizes its origins and national and transnational migration/diffusion.

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Covid-19, Gangs, and Conflict: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Reader

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 1:19am

Covid-19, Gangs, and Conflict: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Reader

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Editors

SWJ has released a new curated collection COVID-19, Gangs, and Conflict examining the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in light of exploitation by gangs, cartels, and mafias.  The reader contains previously published material as well as a prologue by Steven Dudley, a foreword by Nils Gilman, an introduction by John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker. These are followed by a series of previously published SWJ-El Centro research notes on the topic, a curated section of essays, a conclusion by Robert J. Bunker, an afterword by Colon P. Clarke, and a postscript by Tuesday Reitano.

Covid Cover

The Coronavirus pandemic is fueling conflict and fostering extremism while concurrently empowering gangs, cartels, and mafias in their quest for power and profit. In COVID-19, Gangs, and Conflict, Editors John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker bring together a curated collection of both new and previously published material to explore the trends and potentials of the global pandemic emergency. Topics include an exploration of proto-statemaking by criminal groups, the interaction of pandemics and conflict, as well as a comparison of gangs, criminal cartels, and mafias exploiting the crisis and exerting criminal governance in Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, and South Africa. Implications for national security, biosecurity, slums, transnational organized crime, and threats and opportunities in the contested pandemic space are assessed. SWJ

Source: John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Editors, Covid-19, Gangs, and Conflict: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro ReaderBloomington: XLibris, 2020.

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 30: “El Marro” – José Antonio Yépez Ortiz Leader of the Cártel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL) Arrested in Guanajuato

Mon, 08/17/2020 - 10:30pm
José Antonio Yépez Ortiz (aka “El Marro”) was arrested by elements of the Mexican Army (Sedena) in Guanajuato on Sunday, 2 August 2020. “El Marro,” which means the sledgehammer or mallet, is the leader of the Cártel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL). The CSRL are widely known for their role as ‘huachicoleros’ or participants in the illicit fuel trade. The CSRL has been embattled for the past year as government forces sought its leader’s arrest and it fought against its rival the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) for control of Guanajuato’s illicit economy.

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New IFIT Discussion Paper on Negotiating with Criminal Groups in Latin America and the Caribbean

Sat, 08/15/2020 - 6:09pm

Negotiations with Criminal Groups in Latin America and the Caribbean

A new discussion paper from the Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFIT) looks at negotiating with criminal groups in Latin America and the Caribbean. Small Wars Journal – El Centro Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown is principal author of the work.  "Bargaining with the Devil to Avoid Hell?" details eight case studies: 1) Colombia – Pablo Escobar and the Extraditables; 2) Colombia – Gulf Clan Negotiations; 3) El Salvador – Gang Truce; 4) Honduras – Gang Truce; 5) Haiti – Bargaining with Gangs; 6) Mexico – Territorial Access ; 7) Brazil – Gang Violence in Prisons; 8) Mexico – Territorial Access. It is part of a broader effort to examine negotiations with unconventional armed actors including mafias, gangs networks, and drug cartels. 

IFIT Cover

Read the Full Report or Read the Summary.

Source: Vanda Felbab-Brown, "Bargaining with the Devil to Avoid Hell: A Discussion paper on Negotiations with Criminal Groups in Latin America and the Caribbean." Barcelona: Institute for Integrated Negotiations (IFIT). July 2020,

New Atlantic Council Report on The Maduro Regime's Illicit Activities

Sat, 08/15/2020 - 5:50pm

"THE MADURO REGIME’S ILLICIT ACTIVITIES: A Threat to Democracy in Venezuela and Security in Latin America."

The Atlantic Council has released a report on Venezuela's joint criminal enterprise and its threat to regional security.  The report written by Small Wars Journal – El Centro Fellow Douglas Farah is entitled "THE MADURO REGIME’S ILLICIT ACTIVITIES: A Threat to Democracy in Venezuela and Security in Latin America."

Farah Cover

The report issued by the Atlantic Councl's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center examines the Joint Criminal Enterprise inherited by the Maduro regime, the links between the regime's illicit networks and Colombian guerrillas, and the regime's reach and money laundering activities in Europe.

Source: Douglas Farah, "THE MADURO REGIME’S ILLICIT ACTIVITIES: A Threat to Democracy in Venezuela and Security in Latin America." Washington, DC: Atlantic Council. August 2020,




Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 30: Traficante Evangélico (Evangelical Trafficker) Creates “Complexo de Israel” Using Confessional Violence to Consolidate Control in Five Rio Favelas

Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:16pm
A facção (drug trafficking faction) in Rio de Janeiro led by Álvaro Malaquias Santa Rosa, known as Peixão (Big Fish), is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to consolidate control over a group of favelas (slums) in the Northern Zone of Rio de Janeiro. The result is a complex of five favelas: Cidade Alta, Vigário Geral, Parada de Lucas, Cinco Bocas, and Pica-Pau known as the "Complexo de Israel" (Israel Complex or Network of Israel). The favelas comprising the “Complexo de Israel” have a combined population of about 134,000 inhabitants. Peixão’s gang employs a mix of religious imagery and targeted confessional violence to exert territorial control and dominate the illicit market.

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Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 29: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Attacks Honduran Prison Guards with Grenades and Assault Rifles

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 6:40pm
On Monday, 20 July 2020, suspected members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) attacked a military police guards at a prison—la Peniteciaría Nacional de Támara—north of Tegucigalpa, according to the Instituto Nacional Penitenciaro (INP – National Penitentiary Institute). The attack, by prison inmates, involved firearms (assault rifles and pistols, as well as grenades). One sergeant received firearms injuries.

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