The Salvadoran government, led by Nayib Bukele, attempted to locate the gang leader Elmer Canales Rivera, also known as ‘the Crook of Hollywood’, in Mexico. They enlisted the help of a gang member who claimed he could track him down with the assistance of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), as reported by the investigative media outlet El Faro. However, it was later revealed that the gang member never made any efforts to find ‘Crook’ in Mexico or make contact with CJNG. In reality, Canales Rivera was captured in Mexico in November and extradited to the United States.
In the Eastern District of New York, Canales Rivera has been accused, along with 13 other high-ranking followers of the Mara Salvatrucha, of “terrorism crimes related to his conduct of the criminal activities of the transnational criminal organization in the United States, El Salvador, Mexico, and elsewhere during the last two decades,” according to the United States Department of Justice. Canales Rivera was serving time in a prison in El Salvador until he was released from custody and subsequently entered Guatemala illegally. He was a fugitive until his capture on November 7, 2023, in Mexico, revealing the presence of MS-13 in the country.
A report by Univision Noticias in 2023 detailed how the MS-13 gang established a foothold in Mexican territory. The gang took over areas where ‘The Beast’ passes thanks to a strategic alliance with major Mexican cartels, including Los Zetas, El Golfo, Sinaloa, and CJNG, as mentioned in a criminal case at that time.
According to the El Faro investigation, a high-ranking official of the Division Elite Against Organized Crime (DECO), known as ‘Iván’, was tasked with finding Canales Rivera in Mexico. ‘Iván’ contacted a gang member nicknamed ‘Rafa’, who was one of the leaders of Barrio 18 Sureños and had previously reached an agreement known as ‘La Truce’ with the government of Mauricio Funes. The telephone contact between ‘Iván’ and ‘Rafa’ lasted 10 months, during which ‘Rafa’ made him believe that his gang was organized in Mexico and had contacts with the CJNG.
The urgency of El Salvador to find the gang leader ‘Crook’ in Mexico was driven by the upcoming elections. ‘Rafa’ supposedly agreed to help find him in Mexico in exchange for the release of his sister from prison and a payment of $1.3 million. The amount would be divided between the CJNG ($1 million), Barrio Sureños 18 ($250,000), and ‘Rafa’ ($50,000). However, ‘Rafa’ never involved his gang, made contact with CJNG, or went to Mexico. Instead, he reached out to the press and US authorities.
‘Rafa’ and his sister, who was not a gang member and was arrested during the war against Bukele’s gangs, are currently under the protection of US authorities. Canales Rivera is in the hands of the US justice system.
The Salvadoran government’s failed attempt to locate ‘the Crook of Hollywood’ in Mexico underscores the complex and far-reaching nature of gang activity in the region. The involvement of various criminal organizations and the lengths to which they will go to evade capture pose significant challenges for law enforcement and governments in the fight against organized crime.
Image Source: www.univision.com
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