It’s El Salvador’s Turn Now

By Dirk Hanson 06/09/11

Mexican drug cartels menace another poverty-stricken nation.

Photo by Rodrigo Sura.
Photo via colorlines

The inexorable creep through Central America by Mexico’s expanding drug cartels—truly multinational trading enterprises by any reasonable definition—has reached El Salvador, as Mexican President Felipe Calderon turns up the heat at home. As they have done in other countries, the drug thugs have turned to “outsourcing” the trade to new gangs in Central America. In March, we told you about “the capture of a big fish,” as Guatemalan interior minister Carlos Menocal put it during a press conference. The drug kingpin was accused of smuggling tons of cocaine into the U.S. through Guatemala and Mexico over the past few years.  Guatemala continues to battle against the destabilizing of various regions of the country by Mexican drug cartels.

And now the focus is on El Salvador. It’s hard to see how El Salvador will have much better luck fending off the cartels. But so far, things have been quieter there than in neighboring Guatemala. The head of the emergency response police in the capitol city of San Salvador told National Public Radio that “in El Salvador, we still don’t have well-armed groups that have the capacity to directly attack the police.” Nor has the Salvadoran government lost control of parts of the country to the drug traffickers, as has happened elsewhere. And while that definitely qualifies as a good thing, how long it will last is another matter entirely. Bautista Rodriquez of the city’s emergency response police said that the Mexican cartels deliberately work with the most violent local gangs, and that ups the danger for everyone. “The gangs are used more as hit men, used more to kill—used for revenge,” he said. Why can’t anybody stop them? As the NPR report starkly concludes, the “billions of dollars in revenue generated each year by the cartels exceeds the annual gross domestic product of any country in the region.” Unfortunately, that’s an advantage not likely to erode much in the foreseeable future.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]