CENTRAL AMERICA NEWS – According to a US official, around half of the illegal weapons circulating in El Salvador come from the United States. This black market trade may be facilitated by the MS13 gang, which has a presence in both countries

Image for illustrative purposes
Image for illustrative purposes

The estimate was given by Harry Peñate, the Central American attache for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). It represents an increase from 2013, when the ATF put the figure at around 45 percent, reported La Pagina.

Peñate was speaking at a public ceremony in which the US government donated computers and other equipment to El Salvador’s national police, reported La Prensa Grafica. The equipment included a computer program called e-Trace that can be used to track weapons based on the caliber, model, and brand, along with other identifying information.

According to La Pagina, weapons are also smuggled into El Salvador from Belgium, China, Russia, and Italy and are often hidden in airplanes or car parts.

Peñate did not specify how the weapons were being moved from the United States to El Salvador, but it is possible that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang plays a role. The gang was founded in the United States by Salvadoran migrants, and maintains a significant presence in both countries, as well other parts of Central America. A 2013 report by the International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC) stated that there were indications that the MS13 began to play a larger role in the regional arms trade during El Salvador’s gang truce, procuring weapons and selling some of them to other criminal organizations in Latin America.

Salvadoran officials have expressed concern about the country’s weapons regulations. According to Evaristo Padilla, the deputy comissioner of El Salvador’s National Police, the country has too many weapons sales points and not enough controls, reported La Pagina. The availability of weapons has helped drive the country’s high homicide rate, with an estimated 70 percent of murders committed using firearms, according to the Security Ministry.

The country’s illegal arms trade is also facilitated by lax controls on weapons sales in the United States, which has some of the most lenient gun control laws in the world.