Small Wars Journal

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 35: Mara Salvatrucha Training Camp Dismantled by Honduran Police

Sat, 02/20/2021 - 9:38pm

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 35: Mara Salvatrucha Training Camp Dismantled by Honduran Police

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker

Honduran police investigators dismantled a Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) operations center on Friday, 19 February 2021.  MS-13 members were arrested in the compound, which also included a narcolaboratorio (drug laboratory).  The camp was located in a mountainous region on the highway from Tegulcigalpa to Olancho, Honduras.  Drugs and small arms were seized during the raid—Operación DeI Impacto (Operation Impact).

Campamento MS13

Honduras Police Arrest 6 MS-13 leaders at gang operations center.  Source: Dirección Policial de Investigaciones de Honduras / Honduras Police, Investigations Directorate. https://twitter.com/dpi_honduras/status/1362777844749901824?s=20.

Key Information: “Hallan un campamento de sicarios de la MS-13 en zona montañosa.” La Tribuna. 19 February 2021, https://www.latribuna.hn/2021/02/19/hallan-un-campamento-de-sicarios-de-la-ms-13-en-zona-montanosa/?:

Equipos del Centro Antipandillas Transnacional (CAT) de la Dirección Policial de Investigaciones (DPI) en conjunto con las fuerzas especiales lograron este viernes desmantelar un campamento de sicarios y narcolaboratorio de la Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), en una zona montañosa ubicada en la carretera que de Tegucigalpa conduce a Olancho.[1]

Key Information: “Trasladan a 6 pandilleros de la MS-13 capturados en centro de operaciones (Video).” La Tribuna. 19 February 2021, https://www.latribuna.hn/2021/02/19/trasladan-a-6-pandilleros-de-la-ms-13-capturados-en-centro-de-operaciones/:  

See associated video at https://youtu.be/uE0bg12oerQ  

[L]as autoridades policiales, manifestaron que mediante investigaciones se logró identificar con un centro de operaciones de esta organización que funcionaba como campamento de entrenamiento de sicarios y narcolaboratorio… Entre lo decomisado, en esta operación se puede mencionar lo siguiente:

– 74 paquetes conteniendo supuesta marihuana

– 04 armas de fuego tipo escopeta

– 01 arma de fuego tipo fusil AK-47

– 01 arma de fuego tipo pistola calibre 40 mm

– 05 aros de presión

– 32 chalecos antibalas

– 03 fatigas y un par de botas de uso militar

– 07 cargadores metálicos para fusil

– 02 cargadores de pistolas

– 04 cajas de munición

– 02 radios de comunicación

– 01 machete

– 04 hachas

– 10 pistolas de peintball

– 02 teléfonos celulares.[2]

PNC_HN_MS

MS-13 gang members arrested and guns/drugs seized. Source: Policía Nacional de Honduras, https://policianacional.gob.hn/storage/posts/February2021/sHjnAPVzg0OGugUE6OaQ.jpeg.

Key Information: “Desmantelan campo de entrenamiento de sicarios de pandilla MS-13 en Honduras.” SWI (swissinfo.ch). 19 February 2021, https://www.swissinfo.ch/spa/honduras-pandillas_desmantelan-campo-de-entrenamiento-de-sicarios-de-pandilla-ms-13-en-honduras/46385806:

Las fuerzas de seguridad de Honduras desmantelaron este viernes un campo de entrenamiento de sicarios de la Mara Salvatrucha “MS-13” y un laboratorio que era utilizado para procesar drogas en una operación en la que fueron detenidos seis cabecillas de ese grupo criminal.

Elementos de la Dirección Policial de Investigaciones (DPI) llegaron al campamento de la pandilla MS-13, ubicado en el sector conocido como La Sieneguita, en la carretera que desde Tegucigalpa conduce al departamento de Olancho, oriente del país.

La “mega operación” fue coordinada por la DPI con apoyo de Inteligencia Policial y la Dirección Nacional de Fuerzas Especiales, indicó la Policía hondureña en un comunicado de prensa.

El campamento, denominado por la Mara Salvatrucha como “la escuelita”, estaba instalado en una zona montañosa en la colina de un río y era utilizado para “la enseñanza, práctica y adiestramiento en el uso de armas.”[3]

Key Information: “Unidades de investigación desmantelan campamento de entrenamiento de sicarios de la Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).” Noticias Policiales, Policía Nacional de Honduras. 19 February 2021, https://www.policianacional.gob.hn/noticias/9879:

Producto de una mega operación coordinada y ejecutada por la Policía Nacional a través de la Dirección Policial de Investigaciones (DPI) se desmanteló un campamento de entrenamiento de sicarios y un narcolaboratorio de la estructura criminal Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).

El despliegue operacional se llevó a cabo desde horas muy tempranas de este viernes, en el sector conocido como la Sieneguita, carretera que conduce al departamento de Olancho, con apoyo de Inteligencia Policial y la Dirección Nacional de Fuerzas Especiales (DNFE).

El campamento denominado por el grupo delictivo como  “la escuelita.”[4]  

MS-Hn Drugs

MS-13 Mareros (Gang Members) Arrested during Operación DeI Impacto (Operation Impact).  Source: Policía Nacional de Honduras, https://policianacional.gob.hn/storage/posts/February2021/pgfrse6Edz2kf5fv5Dvn.jpeg.

Third Generation Gangs Analysis

Honduran police investigators raided a Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) operations center—or campamento (camp)—during the early morning hours of Friday, 19 February 2021.  The camp was dismantled and six mareros (gang members)—believed to be leaders—were arrested.  The compound, known as “la escuelita” (the little school) functioned as a training center for sicarios (hitmen) and as a narcolaboratorio (drug lab).[5]  The MS-13 has transnational links[6] and increasingly plays a key role in the global illicit cocaine trade.[7]  MS-13 in Honduras is also linked to nacropolitica (narco-politics), including links to the ruling national Party and President Juan Orlando Hernández.[8]

While this is not the first police raid dismantling MS-13 drug labs in Honduras—indeed an earlier raid discovered that the pandilla or mara (gang) was using aerial drones to detect police interference[9]—it demonstrates the gang’s continued efforts to enhance its sophistication by instituting a formal ‘school house’ to train its members. The discovery of the ‘little school’ may be considered yet another example of both MS-13 and their arch-rival Barrio 18 (18th Street), at least its Revolucionarios (Revolutionaries) faction, establishing paramilitary training camps for their members.  These camps—of which seven were mentioned to have existed at one point or another in El Salvador—date back to as early as 2014.  Reports suggest that the training provided included assault rifle marksmanship, ambushes, infantry tactics, and martial arts.[10]    

The natural progression of MS-13’s military-like capacity focused on fielding a five-hundred-man commando unit in nearby El Salvador in 2016 to directly challenge the state.[11]  Though such a ‘criminal commando’ unit ultimately did not materialize, similar future aspirational desires on the part of the gang’s top leadership—the Ranfla—cannot be discounted.  The mara is actively learning from its interactions with the Mexican cartels and Latin American guerrillas as it continues to evolve and become a more capable and deadly form of third generation gang.  The emergence of paramilitary training camps is representative of that growing sophistication and MS-13’s increasing mercenary (power seeking) behaviors.

Sources

“Desmantelan campo de entrenamiento de sicarios de pandilla MS-13 en Honduras.” SWI (swissinfo.ch). 19 February 2021, https://www.swissinfo.ch/spa/honduras-pandillas_desmantelan-campo-de-entrenamiento-de-sicarios-de-pandilla-ms-13-en-honduras/46385806.

“Hallan un campamento de sicarios de la MS-13 en zona montañosa.” La Tribuna. 19 Febriary 2021, https://www.latribuna.hn/2021/02/19/hallan-un-campamento-de-sicarios-de-la-ms-13-en-zona-montanosa/?.   

“Policía de Honduras desarticula campamento de entrenamiento para sicarios de la Mara Salvatrucha” [Photo Essay]. elsalvador.com. 19 February 2021, https://www.elsalvador.com/fotogalerias/noticias-fotogalerias/pandillas-ms-mara-salvatrucha/808271/2021/.

“Trasladan a 6 pandilleros de la MS-13 capturados en centro de operaciones (Video).” La Tribuna. 19 February 2021, https://www.latribuna.hn/2021/02/19/trasladan-a-6-pandilleros-de-la-ms-13-capturados-en-centro-de-operaciones/.

“Unidades de investigación desmantelan campamento de entrenamiento de sicarios de la Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).” Noticias Policiales, Policía Nacional de Honduras. 19 February 2021, https://www.policianacional.gob.hn/noticias/9879.

Endnotes

[1] In English the title reads: “MS-13 sicario [hitmen] camp found in a mountainous area.”  The text reads: “Teams from the Transnational Anti-Gang Center (CAT) of the Police Investigation Directorate (DPI) together with the special forces managed this Friday to dismantle a Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) hitmen’s camp and drug laboratory in a mountainous area located on the highway that from Tegucigalpa leads to Olancho.”

[2] In English the title reads: “6 MS-13 gang members captured in operations center transferred [to the prosecutor] (Video).”  The text reads: “The police authorities stated that through investigations it was possible to identify an operations center of this organization that functioned as a training camp for hitmen and a drug laboratory.”…“Among the {items] seized, in this operation the following can be mentioned:

- 74 packages containing alleged marijuana

- 04 shotguns (type firearm)

- 01 AK-47 rifle (type firearm)

- 01 pistol-type firearm, 40 mm caliber

- 05 pressure rings

- 32 bulletproof vests

- 03 fatigues and a pair of boots for military use

- 07 metal magazines for rifles

- 02 pistol magazines

- 04 boxes of ammunition

- 02 communication radios

- 01 machete

- 04 axes

- 10 paintball guns

- 02 cell phones.”

[3] In English the title reads: “MS-13 gangs’s sicario [hitman] training camp dismantled.”  The text reads: “This Friday, Honduran security forces dismantled a training camp this for assassins of the Mara Salvatrucha ‘MS-13’ and a laboratory that was used to process drugs in an operation in which six leaders of that criminal group were arrested.”…“Elements of the Police Investigation Directorate (DPI) arrived at the MS-13 gang camp, located in the sector known as La Sieneguita, on the highway that leads from Tegucigalpa to the eastern department of Olancho.”…“The ‘mega operation’ was coordinated by the DPI with support from Police Intelligence and the National Directorate of Special Forces, the Honduran Police said in a press release.”…“The camp, called by the Mara Salvatrucha as ‘the little school,’ was installed in a mountainous area on the hill of a river and was used for ‘teaching, practice and training in the use of weapons.’”

[4] In English the title reads: “Investigation units dismantle training camp for sicarios [hitmen] of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).”  The text reads: “As a result of a mega operation coordinated and carried out by the National Police through the Police Investigation Directorate (DPI), a training camp for hitmen and a drug laboratory of the criminal structure Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) were dismantled.” … “The operational deployment was carried out from very early hours this Friday, in the sector known as La Sieneguita, a road that leads to the department of Olancho, with the support of Police Intelligence and the National Directorate of Special Forces (DNFE).”…“The camp known as ‘the little school’ by the criminal group.

[5] “Unidades de investigación desmantelan campamento de entrenamiento de sicarios de la Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).” Noticias Policiales, Policía Nacional de Honduras. 19 February 2021, https://www.policianacional.gob.hn/noticias/9879.

[6] John P. Sullivan, “Transnational gangs: The impact of third generation gangs in Central America.” Air & Space Power Journal – Spanish Edition. Segundo Trimestre 2008, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288528533_Transnational_gangs_The_impact_of_third_genericaeration_gangs_in_Central_Am.

[7] “Drugs, Porous Borders, Politics and Crime in Honduras.” InSight Crime. 17 February 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/drugs-porous-borders-politics-crime-honduras/.

[8] Héctor Silva Ávalos and Victoria Dittmar, “One Party, Many Crimes: The Case of Honduras’ National Party.” InSight Crime. 16 February 2021, https://insightcrime.org/investigations/one-party-many-crimes-honduras-national-party/.

[9] See “Para compartir esta nota utiliza los íconos que aparecen en el sitio.” La Prensa. 19 February 2019, https://www.laprensa.hn/sucesos/1257909-410/autoridades-hondurenas-desmantelan-narcolaboratorio-mara-salvatrucha.

[10] Seth Robbins, “Approach with Caution Report on El Salvador’s Gangs ‘Readying for War.’” InSight Crime. 18 March 2014, https://insightcrime.org/news/brief/is-ms-13-preparing-for-war-in-el-salvador/ and Luis Fernando Alonso, “El Salvador Gang Reportedly Got Military Training.” InSight Crime. 9 September 2016, https://insightcrime.org/news/brief/gangs-trained-by-former-guerillas-according-to-testimony/.

[11] John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 1: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) 500 Man Commando Unit Planned For El Salvador.” Small Wars Journal. 10 September 2016, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-1-mara-salvatrucha-ms-13-500-man-commando-unit-pla.

For Additional Reading

Drugs, Porous Borders, Politics and Crime in Honduras.” InSight Crime. 17 February 2021.

Steven Dudley, MS13: The Making of America’s Most Notorious Gang. New York: Harper Collins, 2020.

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds., Strategic Notes on Third Generation Gangs. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2020.

 

 

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com.