Small Wars Journal

El Centro

SWJ El Centro Book Review – Votes, Drugs, and Violence: The Political Logic of Criminal Wars in Mexico

Sat, 10/31/2020 - 9:08pm
Book review of Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley, "Votes, Drugs, and Violence: The Political Logic of Criminal Wars in Mexico." Trejo and Ley conceptualize cartels and organized crime groups (OCGs) as political actors that read and react to the political environment in Mexico and demonstrate that there is a symbiotic type of relationship between the OCGs or cartels and an informal level of the state.

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Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 32: Militias (Milícias) Surpass Gangs (Gangues) in Territorial Control in Rio de Janeiro  

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 7:43pm
Various factions (facções) exert territorial control over portions of Rio de Janeiro.  These include gangs and militias (gangues e milícias) that challenge the state, contest territorial control and illicit markets, and exert raw political power of criminal governance.  A recent study: Mapa dos Grupos Armados do Rio (Map of the Armed Groups of Rio) conducted by a team of researchers from several Rio de Janeiro universities and civil society organizations mapped the distribution of criminal armed groups (CAGs) in Rio de Janeiro.

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Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #46: Weaponized Drones (Aerial Improvised Explosive Devices) Deployed by CJNG in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán

Mon, 10/05/2020 - 8:41pm
The Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is alleged to have attempted to deploy two weaponsized drones with C4 or similar type explosives against their rivals—the Carteles Unidos (United Cartels)—in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán on 25 July 2020. The weaponized drones were not successfully deployed and were found by a local self-defense group (autodefensas) known as El grupo de autodefensa en Tepalcatepec.

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Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18: Gangs, Terrorists, or Political Manipulation?

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 9:56pm
In January 2020, Guatemalan President Dr. Alejandro Giammattei proposed legislation to categorize the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs as terrorist organizations.In the United States, the Department of Treasury categorized MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization in October 2012 and in July 2020, for the first time, an MS-13 member was charged with terrorism-related offenses. The Constitutional Chambers of the Supreme Court of Justice in El Salvador ruled to reclassify these gangs as terrorist organizations in August of 2015 and in February 2017 Honduras sanctioned terrorist activities by these gangs. This article argues MS-13 and Barrio 18 lack the core component to be classified as terrorist organizations: a political or religious ideology guiding their violence.  

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Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 31: MS-13 East Coast Program Command and Control (C2), Cliques, & Geographic Distribution

Tue, 09/08/2020 - 7:40pm
An MS-13 leader in El Salvador—Armando Eliú Melgar Díaz (a.k.a. “Blue” or “Clipper”)—has been indicted on terrorism charges for his role as the Corredor (Leader) of the gang’s United States East Coast Program. The indictment, by the United States Department of Justice (US DOJ), represents the first ever charging of an MS-13 member for ‘material support to terrorists’ along with other terrorism related offenses in addition to the more traditional racketeering (RICO) and narcotics trafficking charges. It also provides detailed information about the East Coast Program’s command and control (C2) structure and links to El Salvadoran elements of the gang while describing identified US MS-13 cliques and their geographic distribution.

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Eighteenth Street: The Origins of ‘Barrio 18’

Sun, 08/30/2020 - 10:29pm
Eighteenth Street (18th Street) is a gang originating in the Pico-Union District of Los Angeles. It is one of the gangs frequently mentioned in a transnational context and often referred to as a mara—a type of sophisticated gang—due to its presence in El Salvador and other parts of Central America. Eighteenth Street is known as 18th Street, Barrio 18, Calle 18, Mara 18, and M-18 in its various locations. This article summarizes its origins and national and transnational migration/diffusion.

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Covid-19, Gangs, and Conflict: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Reader

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 1:19am

Covid-19, Gangs, and Conflict: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Reader

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Editors

SWJ has released a new curated collection COVID-19, Gangs, and Conflict examining the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in light of exploitation by gangs, cartels, and mafias.  The reader contains previously published material as well as a prologue by Steven Dudley, a foreword by Nils Gilman, an introduction by John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker. These are followed by a series of previously published SWJ-El Centro research notes on the topic, a curated section of essays, a conclusion by Robert J. Bunker, an afterword by Colon P. Clarke, and a postscript by Tuesday Reitano.

Covid Cover

The Coronavirus pandemic is fueling conflict and fostering extremism while concurrently empowering gangs, cartels, and mafias in their quest for power and profit. In COVID-19, Gangs, and Conflict, Editors John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker bring together a curated collection of both new and previously published material to explore the trends and potentials of the global pandemic emergency. Topics include an exploration of proto-statemaking by criminal groups, the interaction of pandemics and conflict, as well as a comparison of gangs, criminal cartels, and mafias exploiting the crisis and exerting criminal governance in Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, and South Africa. Implications for national security, biosecurity, slums, transnational organized crime, and threats and opportunities in the contested pandemic space are assessed. SWJ

Source: John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Editors, Covid-19, Gangs, and Conflict: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro ReaderBloomington: XLibris, 2020.

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 30: “El Marro” – José Antonio Yépez Ortiz Leader of the Cártel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL) Arrested in Guanajuato

Mon, 08/17/2020 - 10:30pm
José Antonio Yépez Ortiz (aka “El Marro”) was arrested by elements of the Mexican Army (Sedena) in Guanajuato on Sunday, 2 August 2020. “El Marro,” which means the sledgehammer or mallet, is the leader of the Cártel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL). The CSRL are widely known for their role as ‘huachicoleros’ or participants in the illicit fuel trade. The CSRL has been embattled for the past year as government forces sought its leader’s arrest and it fought against its rival the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) for control of Guanajuato’s illicit economy.

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New IFIT Discussion Paper on Negotiating with Criminal Groups in Latin America and the Caribbean

Sat, 08/15/2020 - 6:09pm

Negotiations with Criminal Groups in Latin America and the Caribbean

A new discussion paper from the Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFIT) looks at negotiating with criminal groups in Latin America and the Caribbean. Small Wars Journal – El Centro Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown is principal author of the work.  "Bargaining with the Devil to Avoid Hell?" details eight case studies: 1) Colombia – Pablo Escobar and the Extraditables; 2) Colombia – Gulf Clan Negotiations; 3) El Salvador – Gang Truce; 4) Honduras – Gang Truce; 5) Haiti – Bargaining with Gangs; 6) Mexico – Territorial Access ; 7) Brazil – Gang Violence in Prisons; 8) Mexico – Territorial Access. It is part of a broader effort to examine negotiations with unconventional armed actors including mafias, gangs networks, and drug cartels. 

IFIT Cover

Read the Full Report or Read the Summary.

Source: Vanda Felbab-Brown, "Bargaining with the Devil to Avoid Hell: A Discussion paper on Negotiations with Criminal Groups in Latin America and the Caribbean." Barcelona: Institute for Integrated Negotiations (IFIT). July 2020,