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Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 11: MS-503—Mara Fragmentation and Murder
John P. Sullivan, Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht and Robert J. Bunker
On Thursday 1 March 2018 at approximately 1600 hours, Carlos Humberto Rodríguez Burgos, alias “Shyboy,” a marero most recently affiliated with the breakaway Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) faction known as MS-503 was gunned down by two sicarios on a motorcycle in the Mexico City neighborhood of Colonia Portales. “Shyboy” who was formerly associated with the Ninth Street Locos clique was the spokesperson for the dissident MS-503 (Revolucionarios) which seeks to supplant existing MS-13 leadership (la ranfla histórica) in El Salvador.
Key Information: “Asesinan a balazos a líder de la Mara Salvatrucha en Tlalpan.” La Prensa, 3 March 2018, https://www.la-prensa.com.mx/policia/283284-asesinan-a-balazos-a-lider-de-la-mara-salvatrucha-en-tlalpan:
Ciudad de México.- Carlos Humberto Rodríguez, alias “Shyboy”, líder de la pandilla salvadoreña Mara Salvatrucha fue asesinado a balazos Calzada de Tlalpan, en la colonia Portales, delegaciones Benito Juárez.
De acuerdo con la información que publicó el periódico El Reforma, el hombre fue asesinado por otros dos sicarios a bordo de una motocicleta con armas -9 milímetro cuando iba a bordo de un taxi, el pasado jueves 1 de marzo.
El hoy occiso iba acompañado por su pareja sentimental, quien declaró a las autoridades su relación con la Mara y les confirmó su identidad.
“Shyboy” era vocero y cabecilla de la MS-503 y cabecilla de la MS-503, que compite con la MS- Tregua y Barrio 18.
Key Information: Roberto Valencia, “Asesinan en Ciudad de México al Shyboy, el vocero de la MS-503.” El Faro, 3 March 2017, https://www.elfaro.net/es/201803/el_salvador/21556/Asesinan-en-Ciudad-de-México-al-Shyboy-el-vocero-de-la-MS-503.htm:
El pandillero que el año pasado apareció en sendos videos como vocero de la facción Mara Salvatrucha 503 fue asesinado el 1º de marzo cuando se desplazaba en taxi por la capital mexicana. Con ayuda del gobierno salvadoreño, emeeses disidentes aglutinados en la autoproclamada MS-503 quisieron disputar el control de la pandilla a la ranfla histórica, sin éxito. Howard Cotto, director de la PNC, confirmó que “varios de los cabecillas de la Mara Salvatrucha han buscado México como destino”.
Key Information: “¿El Betito tras el asesinato de líder Mara en la CDMX?” La Silla Rota, 3 March 2018, https://lasillarota.com/betito-mara-salvatrucha-shyboy-la-u-cdmx-tepito/209079:
Carlos Humberto Rodríguez Burgos, alias "Shyboy", líder de una facción disidente de los Mara Salvatrucha, habría sido asesinado a manos de sicarios de la organización criminal de "La U", liderada por Roberto Mollado Esparza "El Betito".
De acuerdo con indagatorias de la Procuraduría General de Justicia de la Ciudad de México (PGJCDMX), dadas a conocer por Reforma, existe una teoría sobre el móvil del asesinado de "Shyboy".
Autoridades capitalinas mencionan que sicarios del grupo delictivo de "La U" detectaron al líder pandillero en el Centro de la capital y lo siguieron en motocicletas hasta que lo asesinaron en la Calzada de Tlalpan, Colonia Portales, en la Delegación Benito Juárez.
Las indagatorias de la PGJCDMX presumen que los sicarios de "El Betito" habrían sido contratados desde El Salvador para ultimar a Rodríguez Burgos.
Su asesinato habría sido ordenado por líderes de la Mara Salvatrucha a los que el mismo "Shyboy" habría declarado la guerra tras salir de prisión.
Key Information: “La Mara Salvatrucha se divide en MS-13 y en MS-503 y ordenan purga de cabecillas.” elsalvador.com, 27 April 2017, http://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/nacional/341973/la-mara-salvatrucha-se-divide-en-ms-13-y-en-ms-503-y-ordenan-purga-de-cabecillas/:
Una purga que inició en enero de 2016 contra mareros disidentes, se ha sentido con más fuerza en la últimas semanas…
…Tanto el Diablo de Hollywood (Borromeo Henríquez Solórzano), el Trece (Saúl Antonio Turcios Ángel) y el Crock (Élmer Canales Rivera), entre otros cabecillas de primera línea (Ranfla Nacional) de la MS-13, han sido determinantes en sus órdenes: quitar del camino a la MS-503 o revolucionarios, una agrupación que se ha separado de la Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) a raíz de la disconformidad en el manejo y distribución de millonarias sumas de dólares que durante la tregua recibió esa agrupación criminal de parte del entonces gobierno de Mauricio Funes. Lo anterior ha sido señalado en la investigación conocida como Operación Jaque 300 mediante la cual decomisaron cientos de miles de dólares en bienes a esa organización criminal.
Los informantes aseguran que quienes mayormente conforman el ala disidente de la MS son dos programas (agrupación de varias clicas): Los Fulton y los Normandis; estos programas tienen bajo su control territorios en los departamentos de Chalatenango, Ahuachapán, Sonsonate y San Miguel. Sus cabecillas son quienes sembraron la idea de exigir cuentas a los cabecillas de la Ranfla Nacional acerca del dinero recibido por esa organización lo cual derivó en una discordia y purga entre esa pandilla.
Third Generation Gang Analysis
A member of the dissident Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) faction known as Program 503 (Programa 503) or MS-503 (503 is El Salvador’s area code) was assassinated by two gunmen riding a motorcycle in Mexico City (CDMX). The hit occurred at approximately 4 PM (1600 hours) in Colonia Portales on Thursday 1 March 2018. The victim was identified as Carlos Humberto Rodríguez Burgos, alias “Shyboy.” He was notorious for becoming the spokesperson (vocero) for MS-503 and announcing its split from the MS-13 traditional leadership.
Carlos Humberto Rodríguez Burgos (“Shyboy”) (MS-503 Social Media)
Investigators for Mexico City’s Prosecutor (Procuraduría General de Justicia de la Ciudad de México – PGJCDMX) suspect the hit was conducted on behalf of MS-13 leadership (la ranfla histórica) in El Salvador. The sicarios are believed to have been supplied by a CDMX gang La Unión known locally as “La U.”
Mexico, known as “La M” in emeese slang, is currently home to several MS-13 cliques (clicas) whose leaders have been granted permission to operate their own program (programa). MS-13 in El Salvador operates through a pyramidal structure where ranfleros (a leadership cadre) run clicas and clusters of clicas are known as programas. The El Salvador cliques interact with other parts of the Mara Salvatrucha distributed network though a ‘network of trust and influence.’
Graffiti announcing MS-13 and MS-503 split
“Advierten que la Mara Salvatrucha se ha dividido en MS-13 y MS-503.”
el blog, 27 April 2017, http://elblog.com/noticias/registro-41709.html
The split between MS-13 and MS-503 is an example of illicit network fragmentation stimulated by competition in response to state intervention. In this case, it appears internal leadership and clique divisions were caused or exacerbated by negotiation with El Salvador’s security apparatus related to the breakdown of the MS-13 – Mara 18 (Barrio 18) truce. Fragmentation of criminal enterprises is a known driver of competition for market share and territorial control of criminal services and products (such as dominance of plazas for distribution of narcotics seen in the case of criminal cartels); such competition often results in violent campaigns between—as well as tactical, technical, and organizational innovations within—the warring factions.
MS-13 fragmentation has its genesis in the gang truce (2012-2014) that generated a series of noncomformities through gang ranks due to issues of power, money and penitentiary benefits that were granted to leaders of the gang’s main governing body, the Ranfla Nacional. Some gang leaders in the next level of the chain of command resented not having received the same economic and penitentiary benefits. This situation directly led to nonconformity by gang members of at least four MS-13 cliques, which did not agree on the way in which the Ranfla Nacional manipulated the truce and felt disappointed for not receiving the penitentiary benefits that were promised by the Ranfla Nacional leaders (RNL). They also resented that RNL and their families, due to the economic benefits received, had accumulated wealth and had a much higher standard of living than most lower rank gang member’s families. This situation was interpreted as a mismanagement of the truce by RNL, whom they considered were motivated by personal not gang interests.
Due to the above-mentioned circumstances, some of the “corredores ” of the “Fulton Locos” (FLS) and the “Bosques Locos” (BL) cliques proposed that all RNL be degraded from the Ranfla Nacional and punished according to the MS-13 code. One of the leaders of the FLS, “El Chory,” promoted this insubordination against the Ranfla Nacional and gained support from other cliques. The Ranfla Nacional reaction was to order a “green light ” for the elimination of all dissidents. This repressive action provoked the dissidents to isolate themselves in fear of the announced reprisals. Many of the new cadre of the MS-503 faction come from this grouping of former MS-13 cliques and their members.
The timeline for the aforementioned events is as follows: On July 2015 “El Chory” established in the Izalco Penitentiary a new structure under his command and conformed to by gang members that shared his viewpoints and manifested his concerns about income inequalities to members of the Ranfla that were incarcerated in the same prison. Due to this insubordination, the Ranfla Nacional ordered the “green light” (“Luz verde”) for the assassination of “El Chory” and all his followers inside Izalco Prison as well as the depuration of dissident leadership in Ciudad Barrios Prison and ordering that all cliques that were supporting the dissidents and did not conform to the MS-13 code rules to be disarticulated. On 6 January of 2016, “El Chory” and three other members of his structure were assassinated in the sector 2 of Izalco Prison, for his dissent with the RNL decisions. This assassination became the breaking point for various members of the MS-13 to separate from the gang. Overall, about 50 gang members were executed in this purge.
The assassination of “El Chory” sent a clear message from the RNL to all his supporters that they will share the same fate. Another FLS leader known as the “Snarf” or “Gato” de Fulton, asked the Ranfla Nacional for an explanation of “El Chory’s” demise and was assassinated on January 28, 2016, inside Ciudad Barrios prison. After this event, some videos were made public by the dissident leaders—including the one with “Shyboy” from the Normadies program—who identified themselves as the 503 Program and separated themselves from MS-13 activities. Then, on 24 March 2016, a fragmentation grenade was detonated inside Ciudad Barrios prison and injured some of the MS-503 members. This incident further served to antagonize the division within MS-13.
At least 100 prisoners inside El Salvador’s penitentiary system have identified themselves as members of the MS-503. These members have adopted a set of rules that include: Combat the MS-13 gang over territorial control; Avoid murdering innocent persons on the streets and stop the MS-13 extortion of the community.
In El Salvador, authorities do not consider MS-503 a fully developed, separate gang since it does not have control over territories. Due to the MS-13 persecution, some MS-503 members have started to migrate to Mexico in areas where there is no MS-13 presence in order to strengthen themselves and exert teritorial control that will permit them to expand.
As the MS-13 gang in El Salvador evolved into a more complex and sophisticated gang, it modified its organizational structure in order to guarantee the consolidation of its extortion and drug peddling markets, the diversification into legal business activities, the protection of its supply chain network, and to maintain order and discipline within the organization. The main changes in Salvadoran MS-13 structure was the formation of the “Ranfla en Libertad” by trusted ranfleros and organizing its programs by geographical zone. These modifications were a strategic countermove to the anticipated tough anti-gang measures from the Government of El Salvador as the gang truce collapsed.
As the confrontation with police and armed forces increased in intensity, MS-13 started sending trusted members of the “Ranfla en Libertad” to Mexico to establish contacts with drug cartels (specifically Sinaloa and the Zetas) to obtain weapons and marijuana to send back to El Salvador. It appears the first gang members that were sent were “misbehaving” and the Zetas sent a message to the Ranfla General of this situation and warned them that either they needed to be brought back to their senses or the cartel would take matters into their hands. Other members of the Ranfla General were sent to address this situation.
Recently, Salvadoran MS-13 has established the Mexico Program which now has around 10 bases. This program operates with the permission of Mexican cartels—specifically Sinaloa and Los Zetas. Their main activity in Mexican territory is to extort the human smuggling networks that pass through Mexico carrying Central American immigrants, paying a cut of this money to the cartels. This level of coordination made it fairly easy for MS-13 to arrange the assassination of “Shyboy.”
The emergence of the dissident MS-503 organization, while still relatively small in size and influence due to the immediate depuration of various insubordinate MS-13 cliques, has a number of potentially significant implications for MS-13 going into the future. The first is, if MS-503 is able to seize territory and expand within areas of Mexico, it will do so in direct opposition to MS-13 Northbound human smuggling and Southbound marijuana and small arms trafficking illicit economic interests. Natural allies for MS-503 for such an endeavor would be entities competing with the MS-13 allied Sinaloa or Zetas cartels—such as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).
The second implication is that the potential for conflict between MS-13 and MS-503 members taking place within the United States now exists. In March 2018, a 20-year-old MS-503 member was arrested in Yuma, Arizona by US Border Patrol agents. This confirms that some MS-503 members are now making their way into the United States. It is only a matter of time before these gang members and those of the opposing MS-13 gang meet each other on the streets or in jail or prison lock ups.
The third implication is that additional dissident groups—composed of disenfranchised MS-13 cliques in Central America or North America—could conceivably arise in the future as a reaction to injustices or inequalities (perceived or actual) stemming from Ranfla Nacional policies. While assassinating MS-503 members in El Salvador—or even Mexico—appears to have been a relatively simple affair, attempting to kill dissident MS-13 members—especially en masse—within the United States with its stronger political capacity and rule of law would be far more difficult to implement. In fact, to do so would likely result in immediate US federal governmental blowback targeting the Ranfla Nacional leadership itself.
The fourth implication is that the old adage “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” may at some point manifest itself with MS-503 or another MS-13 dissident clique grouping in which they create alliances with MS-13 enemies out of convience and situational needs. This has happened time and time again with the Mexican cartels where splinter groups have gone over to the opposing side. While MS-503 or some future MS-13 dissident group allying with Mara 18 (Barrio 18) may at first sound absurd, such potentials must now at least be considered as they earlier were with an MS-503 alliance with CJNG in Mexico. Fragmentation and adaptation to changing market and security dynamics fuel new power and organizational relationships.
Javier Brandoli, “Asesinan en México al pandillero que quiso cambiar la Mara Salvatrucha.” El Mundo, 5 March 2018, http://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2018/03/05/5a9d606de2704e267d8b4594.html.
“Asesinan a balazos a líder de la Mara Salvatrucha en Tlalpan.” La Prensa, 3 March 2018, https://www.la-prensa.com.mx/policia/283284-asesinan-a-balazos-a-lider-de-la-mara-salvatrucha-en-tlalpan.
“¿El Betito tras el asesinato de líder Mara en la CDMX?” La Silla Rota, 3 March 2018, https://lasillarota.com/betito-mara-salvatrucha-shyboy-la-u-cdmx-tepito/209079.
“La Mara Salvatrucha se divide en MS-13 y en MS-503 y ordenan purga de cabecillas.” elsalvador.com, 27 April 2017, http://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/nacional/341973/la-mara-salvatrucha-se-divide-en-ms-13-y-en-ms-503-y-ordenan-purga-de-cabecillas/.
Roberto Valencia, “Asesinan en Ciudad de México al Shyboy, el vocero de la MS-503.” El Faro, 3 March 2017, https://www.elfaro.net/es/201803/el_salvador/21556/Asesinan-en-Ciudad-de-México-al-Shyboy-el-vocero-de-la-MS-503.htm.
 Carlos Martínez and Roberto Valencia, “Shyboy, el vocero desconocido de la MS-503.” El Faro, 26 November 2017, https://elfaro.net/es/201711/salanegra/21166/Shyboy-el-vocero-desconocido-de-la-MS-503.htm. An English version of this report is found at Carlos Martínez and Roberto Valencia, “‘Shyboy,’ the Mysterious Spokesman of El Salvador’s MS503.” InSight Crime, 29 December 2017, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/el-salvador-shyboy-mystery-spokesman-ms503/.
 “¿El Betito tras el asesinato de líder Mara en la CDMX?” La Silla Rota, 3 March 2018, https://lasillarota.com/betito-mara-salvatrucha-shyboy-la-u-cdmx-tepito/209079.
 Background on “La U” can be found at Alejandra Medina, “¿Qué sabemos de La Unión, el grupo criminal que opera en la CDMX?” Cultura Collectiva (CC News), 28 April 2017, https://news.culturacolectiva.com/noticias/la-union-el-grupo-criminal-de-la-cdmx/.
 Emeese, from the letters “M” and “S” connotes MS (Mara Salvatrucha) slang. See Roberto Valencia, “Asesinan en Ciudad de México al Shyboy, el vocero de la MS-503.” El Faro, 3 March 2017, https://www.elfaro.net/es/201803/el_salvador/21556/Asesinan-en-Ciudad-de-México-al-Shyboy-el-vocero-de-la-MS-503.htm for details on the ranfleros installed in Mexico.
 A brief description of MS-13 organization can be found at José Meléndez, “MS-13, una pirámide de férro control.” El Universal, 26 April 2017, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/articulo/mundo/2017/04/26/ms-13-una-piramide-de-ferreo-control and José Meléndez, “Radiografía de la MS-13: un tenebroso calvario.” el Nuevo Herald, 29 May 2017, http://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/article153258324.html.
 “Corredores” means “runners” in English. They are the leaders that run MS-13 programs.
 “Green Light” or “Luz Verde” in MS-13 gang slang means giving authorization to engage in an activity such as assassinating an individual or providing a blanket ‘kill order’ against an entire clique (clica) or grouping of individuals.
 The depuration process consisted of first degrading them from their leadership positions and then assassinating them.
 See “Piwa ordenó ejecutar a 50 mareros por decir que recibieron $25 millones.” elsalvador.com, 3 August 2016,
 Concerning this assassination, see “Así inició el conflicto interno de la Mara Salvatrucha que hoy se traduce en más homicidios.” El Salvador Times, 26 June 2017,
Two of these videos with “Shyboy” reading a proclamation and surrounded by a small group of followers are “Pandilla MS 503 lanza un mensaje a El Salvador.” YouTube, Posted 5 September 2017, https://youtu.be/7NEdpzAF8A8?t=45 and “MS-13 PROGRAMA 503 advierte a MS – Tregua” YouTube, Posted 4 October 2017,
MS-13 has diversified into motels, transportation buses, nightclubs, used car dealerships, and carwashes.
Especially for marijuana (marihuana) and small arms trafficking purposes.
 These are the Occidental zone, the Central zone, the Paracentral zone, and the Oriental zone.
 It seems that El Salvador’s internal cocaine market is minimal (probably due to lack of higher disposable incomes) so marijuana represents a far more lucrative and profitable market. Concerning seized marijuana shipments, see “Salvadoreño fue capturado con más de 39 mil dólares en marihuana.” elsalvador.com, 22 March 2018, http://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/nacional/463362/salvadoreno-fue-capturado-con-mas-de-39-mil-dolares-en-marihuana/ and “Antinarcóticos decomisan 60 libras de marihuana.” La Prensa, 1 March 2018, https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Antinarcoticos-decomisan-60-libras-de-marihuana-20180228-0115.html
 For a discussion of MS-13’s interaction with the Zetas, see John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “Los Zetas and MS-13: Nontraditional Alliances.” CTC Sentinel, Vol. 5, Issue 6, June 2012, pp. 7-9, https://ctc.usma.edu/los-zetas-and-ms-13-nontraditional-alliances/.
 The arrested individual, Jose Rodriguez-Lopez, was positively identified as a MS-503 member but claimed to no longer be affiliated with the gang. See “MS-503 Gang Member Apprehended by Yuma Border Patrol Agents.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 15 March 2018, https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/local-media-release/ms-503-gang-member-apprehended-yuma-border-patrol-agents.
For Additional Reading
Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Studies in Gangs and Cartels. London:
Douglas Farah and Kathryn Babineau, “The Evolution of MS 13 in El Salvador and Honduras,” Prism, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2017.
Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht, “Gangs in El Salvador: A New Type of Insurgency?” Small Wars Journal, 27 October 2017.
Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht, “Las Pandillas en El Salvador: ¿Un Nuevo Tipo de Insurgencia?” Small Wars Journal, 4 September 2017.
John P. Sullivan and Samuel Logan, “MS-13 Leadership: Networks of Influence.” The Counter Terrorist, August/September 2010.