Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime

In San Salvador’s bustling Historic Center, nothing gets done without going through the gangs.

The notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 street gangs have steadily tightened their grip on almost all aspects of life in a city center housing the heart of El Salvador’s informal urban markets – a gold mine for extortion, contraband, drug-peddling, and more.

This two-year InSight Crime investigation chronicles how the gangs, with their ever-increasing control of territory and criminal revenue, have used their stranglehold on the Historic Center to expand their power in El Salvador.

The center is crucial to the gang’s political awakening – a reality which has brought with it a host of alliances and negotiations with politicians of all parties, from municipal officials to the halls of Nayib Bukele’s presidential palace.