In a sudden and extensive move, the U.S. Treasury Department has added to its list of international sanctions five top officials in El Salvador, accusing them of “aiding and abetting” gangs responsible for violent drug trafficking and extortion in the country.
The sanctions follow El Salvador’s decision on Friday to open trade negotiations with the United States after President Donald Trump canceled a meeting with Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren over a roadblock that the president said had been installed on the highway by the gang MS-13.
The Salvadoran government described the trade deal as a gesture of goodwill, and Vice President Manuel Bonilla Jr. called the sanctions a “step backwards for the relations” between the two countries.
In a statement on Friday, the Treasury Department said that four of the officials named — Eugenio Chicas Arroyo, Jose Arnulfo Salgado, Sandra Isaura Basaldua and Dulce Orozco Guillen — have been named co-conspirators in the criminal action on behalf of the street gangs’ leadership, called the Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13. The fifth official — an official of the National Civil Police — has been indicted for ties to El Salvador’s largest street gang, the Barrio 18.
“Gang-related violence is responsible for several high-profile murders in El Salvador, including the brutal slayings of a British father and his 3-year-old daughter,” Acting Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker said in a statement. “These current and former officials in El Salvador engaged in long-standing and egregious conduct that threatens the safety of El Salvadorans and U.S. nationals, and we will continue to sanction those responsible for these tragic crimes.”
The action comes after Salvadoran authorities closed off roads to the United States last month during the annual Easter holiday to seal off the highways used to smuggle in drugs and people. At that time, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the move a “troubling” one that “amounts to extortion and yet another reminder of the need for robust border security to protect the United States.”
There are reports that the gang is responsible for thousands of murder victims in El Salvador in recent years, some of which are even attributed to the United States. Members of the MS-13 have been accused of murder for crimes such as drug smuggling, kidnap and human trafficking.
Read the full story at The Guardian.
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