El Salvador Gangs Use Hospital Staff to Pass On Criminal Orders

Latin America

A network of corrupt hospital officials is allegedly helping imprisoned gang members communicate attack orders to other associates, in just the latest state institution to be co-opted by the country’s criminal groups.

Jailed gang members are using medical appointments in public hospitals to send criminal orders to other gang members through a network of corrupt hospital workers, according to El Salvador Prison Director Osiris Luna Meza, La Prensa Gráfica reported.

Luna Meza says that gang members have admitted to having “bought off” certain employees in order to relay essential information to gang members still on the outside, according to official intelligence reports.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profile

Salvadoran law currently allows inmates to leave prison to receive treatment in public hospitals when they’re experiencing health problems. However, Luna Meza is calling for an end to this practice to ensure that all inmates can receive adequate care within the prisons they’re housed in, according to La Prensa Gráfica.

All of El Salvador’s prisons are supposed to have medical clinics to care for inmates. These services would be expanded under Luna Meza’s proposed reforms to eliminate the gangs’ use of corrupt public hospital workers to disseminate information.

The latest revelations come just after President Nayib Bukele declared a “state of emergency” in various prisons June 21 due to suspicions of a possible attack.

InSight Crime Analysis

Powerful gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 in El Salvador have for years relied on infiltrating state institutions to secure protection and further their criminal interests.

Indeed, the gangs have in the past “forged election pacts with the country’s main political parties” and have even brokered agreements where they have been gifted food, money and jobs by political operatives. All of this has allowed them to “widen their own social and political power base,” as InSight Crime detailed in one part of a 2017 investigation into mayors and organized crime in the Northern Triangle on gangs and municipal power in El Salvador.

SEE ALSO: Gangs and Municipal Power in Apopa, El Salvador

The political system isn’t the only state institution the gangs have co-opted.

Between 2010 and 2015, for example, nearly 500 gang members allegedly infiltrated El Salvador’s armed forces and police. In some cases, gang members have used corrupt police forces to help run extortion rackets — their primary income source — or corrupt troops to obtain high-powered weaponry.

In addition, El Salvador’s prison system has served as the headquarters for the MS13 and Barrio 18 — the country’s two largest gangs — for more than a decade. “The gangs’ takeover of the prisons resulted from a combination of bad public policy, and the gangs’ increasing organizational skill and guile,” InSight Crime reported in a 2017 investigation.

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