COSTA RICA NEWS (Dialogo-Americas) — Authorities from Central American countries are working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on important operations to dismantle violent gang – including Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, and Barrio 18, also known as M-18.
Those countries, along with Belize, Costa Rica and Panama are cooperating with the FBI in the initiative.
More than 20 police officers and civilian community activists from those countries participated in two weeks of anti-gang training provided by FBI agents at its campus in Quantico, Virginia. The program, which began in late April and ended in early May, covered combat skills, tactics, and gang prevention.
The training was part of the Central American Community Impact Exchange (CACIE) program, according to the FBI. Authorities established CACIE in in 2013. FBI agents used a high-tech simulator to provide tactical training for confronting gangs to the participants.
The CACIE program is providing “concrete and specific” training in how to stop gang activities, said Armando Rodríguez, a security analyst from the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM).
Gang activity in Costa Rica
Each of the countries participating in the training with the FBI has different challenges when it comes to gangs. For example, since 2011, Costa Rican authorities have seen a steady increase in gang activity.
Authorities in Costa Rica must remain vigilant, because the gang problem could get worse if the gangs in the country continue to grow, Rodríguez said.
There is no significant gang violence in Belize. However, that country is used by transnational criminal organizations as a strategic drug transshipment point to the Caribbean, according to Rodríguez.
Since 2010, Panamanian authorities have noted an increase in gangs transporting drugs through the Gulf of Uribe for transferring drugs.
“The challenge for authorities is to work together in prevention from a social standpoint,” Rodriguez said.
Cooperation is crucial in the fight against gangs and the international drug cartels they partner with, according to an FBI statement.
“We can only be successful in the fight against transnational gangs if we work together,” the FBI states on FBI.gov.
Gangs in Central America
While MS-13 and M-18 are the largest gangs in Central America, they aren’t alone. There are about 900 gangs in the region, according to Envio.org and other publications, totaling about 140,000 members.
Most gang members work the streets, extorting, perpetrating threats and act of violence, forcibly recruiting young people, and robbing bus drivers and small business owners.
But some gang members are professionals. Among their ranks are physicians, attorneys, engineers and IT specialists.
Some MS-13 and M-18 factions have grown large enough to afford medical equipment so that they can treat members injured during battles, El Heraldo reported on August 6.
In addition to forming alliances with the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, MS-13 and M-18 have also formed partnership with regional drug trafficking groups, such as Los Chachiros, Los Mendozas, Los Lorenzanas and Los Perrones.