4 Things You Need to Know About MS-13 and This Mexican Cartel

According to the IASC report, MS-13 is closely working with Los Zetas on human trafficking across Central America. The gang has a complex coyote network that can reportedly move individuals from Mexico's Northern Triangle to the U.S. in less than 72 hours, and Los Zetas are using it to the mutual benefit of both groups.

At the same time, MS-13 is currently escalating its weapons and drug trafficking. The gang's arms caches now include high-powered weapons like RPGs and surface to air missiles, some of which are apparently being sold to terrorist organizations such as Colombia's FARC, according to the report. Meanwhile, the group appears to be expanding its role in the cocaine trade, as suggested by the dramatic increase in arrests of MS-13 drug lords in the past few years.

3. They are deepening ties with Los Zetas

Apart from the human-trafficking activities already noted above, MS-13 is also working with Los Zetas on enforcement and paramilitary operations.

"There have been important efforts, many of them successful, by Los Zetas to recruit the best and most skilled MS-13 killers and gunmen, both in El Salvador and Guatemala," the IASC report says. "Many of the recruits receive enhanced military training in the Petén region of Guatemala and then operate either in Guatemala or Mexico."

Gang members receive a monthly salary of $400, which is sometimes paid to the member's clica, according to the authors. El Salvador's president denies the existence of such a relationship between the gangs.

4. They are becoming politically savvy

Over the years, the language used in statements issued by the imprisoned heads of MS-13 has become more complex and politically sophisticated, according to the IASC study. Nowadays their declarations are peppered with claims that echo the main beliefs of liberation theology, the Latin American school of thought that puts a leftist bent on the Scriptures.

MS-13 and other Salvadoran gangs are now issuing demands similar to those made by groups like Colombia's FARC, and in doing so are assuming a role that didn't exist in El Salvador a few years ago – that of freedom fighters for the poor. "The gangs are increasingly becoming aware of their potential political power, based on territorial control and the ability to deliver large amounts of votes to a preferred candidate," the IASC report concludes.

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