viernes, 3 de agosto de 2012

The Texis Cartel (traducción)

 On May 16th, 2011, El Faro ran the story about one of the three drug trafficking rings that operate in Salvadoran territory. They called that story The Texis Cartel. The piece reveals the activities of a hotel owner that has managed to infiltrate the National Civilian Police and the Salvadoran political establishment in order to control an important path for cocaine illicit traffic in the Northwestern part of the country.

On June 26th, 2012, more than a year after that first piece and after having been victims of harassment and threats, El Faro reporters ran the second part of the Texis story, which they entitled "A councilman to get to the Texis Cartel". The electronic journal uncovers on that piece how a councilman of the Metapán municipality -the largest city under the influence of the Cartel- negotiated the sell of five kilos of coca to Police undercover agents. Another scoop: the ultimate goal of that police operation -ordered during the tenure of former PNC Director, Commissioner Carlos Ascencio- was José Adán Salazar Umaña, aka Chepe Diablo, identified by police intelligence as the cartel leader. After the councilman's arrest investigations of the Texis Cartel have stopped.

El 16 de mayo de 2011, el periódico digital El Faro de El Salvador publicó la primera entrega sobre uno de los tres grandes anillos de narcotráfico que operan en el país centroamericano, al que llamó el Cártel de Texis. La historia detalla cómo un grupo de narcotraficantes dirigidos por un empresario hotelero ha logrado infiltrar la policía y al estamento político salvadoreño para controlar una amplia zona de tránsito de droga en la esquina noroccidental del país.

El 26 de junio de 2012, más de un año después de la primera publicación y tras ser víctimas de acoso, amenazas y persecución, los periodistas de El Faro publicaron la segunda entrega sobre la organización de narcos, titulada "Un concejal para llegar al Cártel de Texis". Ahí, el periódico revela que un concejal de la alcaldía de Metapán, la ciudad más grande bajo la influencia del cártel, había intentado negociar la venta de cinco kilos de cocaína con agentes encubiertos de la Policía. Otra revelación: el objetivo último del operativo policial contra ese concejal, Jesús Sanabria, era José Adán Salazar, alias Chepe Diablo, identificado por la inteligencia de la PNC como el líder del cártel. Tras la captura del concejal, las investigaciones contra Texis se han estancado.

Traduzco aquí al inglés la primera entrega sobre el Cártel de Texis publicada por El Faro.

Calle de Texistepeque

The Texis Cartel

Three state intelligence reports and several high-level informants report that a large hotelier is allied with deputies, policemen, mayors and gangs in the northwest of El Salvador to make up the Texis Cartel, an organization that has managed to survive more than a decade of investigation by national and international authorities. It is a larger organization than Los Perrones, say those who have led this investigation for four months. They are described as drug traffickers operating in El Caminito, the shortcut that El Salvador provides to the international traffic moving South American cocaine to the United States. Corruption and violence open the road along the way.
Sergio Arauz, Oscar Martínez, Efren Lemus / Photos: Frederick Meza / Published on May 16, 2011

Part I: The reports and the informants
The pick-up's old engine seems to complain about the burden of more than a dozen white sacks crammed into the narrow bed of the vehicle. Maseca flour, say the markings on each sack. It is the first of two vehicles crossing a narrow concrete bridge, across the dividing line between Honduras and El Salvador, a border where there are no checkpoints or questions.
"Aren't you going to check it? Check it!" A visitor to the area says to the two soldiers who are the only ones keeping any kind of eye on this transit point and have been surprised by a plainclothes policeman.
The soldiers defend their indifference
 "There are many cars and people. We can't check them all one by one," says one of the soldiers in a quiet voice, as if accepting the reprimand.
That point is called San Fernando, a poor and small town in Chalatenango that has a handful of houses, a church, a diner, a small school and no police station. The role of police and customs agents is fulfilled by two short men dressed in olive green and military caps. Each one has an M-16 and a smile that welcome visitors. They greet every passing car at the edge of town. No questions or procedures.
 "There's not a cop in sight, and at night it is even easier to get through," says the officer who surprised the soldiers of Sumpul Command, the military force responsible for the blind spots on the Salvadoran borders.
The soldiers he has told off are accustomed to seeing trucks, pick ups and all kinds of vehicles pass by freely.
This is the blind spot of San Fernando, Chalatenango, where the cocaine road known as El Caminito begins.
San Fernando is a wide open door, where people and goods alike go freely on toward Honduras, and people and goods enter freely from Honduras too. At the San Fernando border they rarely check whether products such as these bags of Maseca actually contain what the label claims. There are trucks loaded with goods, Honduran children who come to San Fernando to study, guns, bags of flour and other bags that also contain a white powder, but a very different substance: cocaine. San Fernando is the beginning of the Salvadorian route which moves some of the cocaine from South America towards the United States.
This is where, according to three different intelligence reports that were the basis for this investigation, you enter the territory of "Chepe Diablo," (meaning Chepe the Devil, in English) the drug lord of the West, the head of one of the country's largest cartels and one of the wealthiest drug traffickers in the north of the State of Santa Ana. "Chepe Diablo ", according to police intelligence officials and various security department personnel, is one of the three founders of the Texis cartel. His real name is José Adán Salazar Umaña.
Salazar Umaña is a folksy 62-year Salvadoran known in four different social worlds: tourism entrepreneurs know him as a hotel owner, people from the soccer world know him as the boss of the first division soccer team Metapán and chairman of Salvadoran soccer's First Division, in the livestock sector he is known as a prominent rancher, and in the public security sector and in secret reports by the state he is described as a "businessman, rancher and drug trafficker".
The police, the army and the District Attorney’s Office know about Chepe Diablo. Intelligence reports obtained in this investigation clearly state that he is one of the leaders of the cartel that controls the route that starts in San Fernando. The road runs south to Dulce Nombre de Maria, where it turns to the west, passing through Nueva Concepción and reaching the town of Metapán, in the upper left corner of the map of El Salvador, which borders with Guatemala. This drugs route is currently close to achieving a promotion with the opening of a highway, the Northern Longitudinal Highway. The police investigating Salazar and his group call the cartel's operational area the Northern Cocaine Route or El Caminito.
The report that initiated the investigation is dated March 22, 2000, and El Faro got hold of it in December last year. It contains data collected by police investigators and is titled "Metapán Case", number 003/00. During our reporting other documents were added from between 2008 and this year. The investigations cover three presidential terms, those of Francisco Flores and Antonio Saca of Arena, and Mauricio Funes of the FMLN. The police investigations have been conducted under the direction of five directors of the National Civil Police (PNC): Mauricio Sandoval, Ricardo Menesses, Rodrigo Avila, Francisco Rovira, José Luis Tobar Prieto and Carlos Ascencio.
The drugs passing through San Fernando come mostly from the Atlantic coast of Honduras, and reach Honduras mainly at two sites. By sea, speedboats from Colombia cross the empty Caribbean off Nicaragua and make short stops until they reach the Honduran border region of Gracias a Dios. By air, light aircraft land in the Honduran jungle region of Olancho or on the border between the two countries marked by the River Coco. The drugs move on by cutting across central Honduras until arriving to the State of Ocotepeque, on the border with El Salvador, Chalatenango, and San Fernando.
San Fernando is the release point where the Honduran hand the baton to the Salvadorans, in a journey that is managed by Colombians and Mexicans. It is a highway that moves millions of dollars in profits for its leaders, who are disguised as businessmen, ranchers, mayors, policemen, gangsters, Coyotes and deputies. Each plays a role: the policemen bought by the narcos guard and transport the drugs, remove roadblocks, and give warning of any security operations; the mayors give building permits, formalize business deals and give privileged information, and in one case, even lead a group; the gang members kill and traffic in local markets; deputies give access to the upper echelons of power: and some judges and prosecutors make sure that any prosecution attempt is blocked by the weight of a very meticulous bureaucracy.
How much money is Chepe Diablo handling? In the past five years he has declared a revenue totaling more than $ 30 million. Only in 2008, the flagship year of the international financial crisis, José Adán Salazar Umaña declared to the Treasury more than $ 9 million in revenue from commercial activities.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that each year between 500 and 600 tons of cocaine cross Central America into the United States - at least since 2006. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the National Civil Police have declared to international media and also directly to this newspaper that El Caminito carries a large percentage of the cocaine passing through El Salvador, which is the fashionable route today, being the main supply route for the cartels in Guatemala.
The Texis Cartel's drug traffickers work as free agents in the international cocaine market: they are the suppliers of the Gulf Cartel, the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas ... Whoever pays gets its services and has the way open to El Caminito, which ends at the Salvadoran border town of Santa Ana, adjacent to the Guatemalan State of Jutiapa, a well-known bastion of drug traffickers in that country.
During four months of research, El Faro visited El Caminito and spoke with policemen, soldiers, mayors, government secretaries, police commissioners, intelligence sources and investigators who have worked for the DEA. These are the results and the evidence. These sources often requested anonymity. They all know of the Texis Cartel and they all know of Chepe Diablo and his partners.
"The road that starts here spreads money. Did you see those two soldiers?" asked The Detective, one of the key sources that guided us.
The Detective is a police investigator who has participated in anti-drug operations in collaboration with agencies like the DEA, to which he is one of the leading information providers. We reply that we did see those two soldiers.
"They are content with nothing: a plate of food, $ 10 Dollars...
"We're surprised: anything could happen here, and anytime.
"It's an open nozzle. Did you see those bags of flour? It could have been cocaine and nobody asked anything.
The first clue of the Texis Cartel reached us in December 2010. A close adviser of former President Antonio Saca approached us to give us information about what he called "a large case" that has never been resolved by the authorities.
"This is not new, the file is with the DEA, the National Civil Police (PNC), even the District Attorney’s Office. Ask for yourselves and you will see that I'm not lying," he said.
- And Saca knew about this? We asked.
"Ha, ha, ha, everyone knows this, it comes under the responsibility of The Perrones."
The Perrones are a gang that police began investigating in 2003 and which ended up falling apart in 2008. When the authorities began to track drug dealers in the east of the country, they had already been following the tracks of the Texis Cartel for at least two years.
The theory that this contact explained to us in a cafeteria on December 15 of that year was that the growth of the Texis Cartel and its professionalism over the past 10 years was such that prosecuting it is an almost impossible challenge for the Police, who do not find a strong ally in the District Attorney’s Office.
"Until it seriously affects the interests of the Yanks, the traffic will continue," he predicted.
That first report was 60 pages long, with maps of clandestine landing strips, records with general data about the leading members of the cartel, and sketches showing the locations of the businesses of the people investigated.
This first report mentioned the main partners of Chepe Diablo: Juan Umaña Samayoa, mayor of the municipality of Metapán, and a prominent politician from the right-wing National Conciliation Party (PCN), and Roberto Antonio Herrera, aka El Burro (which means The Donkey in English), former president of the Livestock Fair of Santa Ana, whom the FBI and the DEA have been targeting for at least five years.
In early February 2011, when distrust of a report that didn't even say who had written it began to transform into certainty and into some concrete clues, a senior police officer confirmed to us that José Adán Salazar Umaña, Roberto Antonio Herrera and the Mayor of Metapán were running criminal activities. He said that according to the police, the report was true, and that it even fell short in terms of the extent of the network. This was told to us by a police commissioner, who we call The Commissioner.
Weeks passed and one day The Commissioner turned up with a folder under his arm. He gave us the Second Report, one produced by police intelligence, one with an author's name confirming what was written in the First Report and going into more detail about the members of the network and their way of operating.
The days passed and the talks continued until one day The Commissioner was accompanied by a man in civilian clothes. That day, The Commissioner introduced us to The Detective.
"He knows about the topic you want to investigate, he is reliable and he is in the field," he told us by way of introduction.
The Detective, from that first meeting, began to discuss in detail the role of each member of this hidden cartel, explained its dimensions and put a voice to the reports.
"Look, all these drug dealers have a general manager, there are more people higher up. In the west these people are. Now, each one has a network of people. Behind every head is a network of 'family', people you trust. Chepe Diablo alone has more than 50 people and each person has others, he doesn't get his hands dirty anymore.
Although the police as an institution refused to cooperate with our investigation, our informants decided to give the green light to open up to our questions and requests for information: but it soon became necessary to find other sources. We could not run the risk that the First Report also came from the police, which would give us a case based only on information from a source. However, talking was very difficult for the officials we went to. José Adán Salazar Umaña is a name that we heard about from all our sources, but he is still free despite years of investigation. He is a very well-protected narco, they said. What would I get out of talking?, they seemed to be wondering, because the attitude of many who remained silent was that of someone who has something on the tip of their tongue, but shuts his mouth and keeps quiet.
One day, one of our key sources, who we call The Officer, decided to listen to us, and collaborated throughout the entire investigation. He is one of the commanders on security issues in this government, a right-hand man of President Mauricio Funes.
The first meeting went on as had been agreed: only us and him, no tape recorders. We mentioned José Adán Salazar Umaña, known as Chepe Diablo, and The Officer nodded; we mentioned Juan Samayoa, mayor of Metapán, and Roberto "El Burro" Herrera, as key partners, and he nodded again; the Texis Cartel, the Cartel of Chepe Diablo, the cartel of El Caminito, the Northern Route, and The Officer nodded. Nod, nod, nod ...
­"Yeah," he said finally, naturally, without excitement. "All this sounds familiar. Let me find out a bit more. Let's meet next week."
During that week we made an attempt with a police chief who, after hearing our presentation, initially kept silent. The week passed and we met with The Official, who was holding some sheets of paper stapled together.
"So you got some information?"
"Yes, it's here," he said, tapping his index finger to the file, and then silence again.
"What does it say there?"
He went silent for a few seconds. He put the sheets on the table, put his cell on the pages and looked at us.
"Do you know what you are getting into?" he asked, his expression serious. "Here I have some information, but I want to know if you know what you're getting into, because they send people to kill... that's how they operate. If you mess with them, they deal with you. It's no joke."
We said we knew. We told him that we had been hearing the same phrase, worded differently from other people for weeks. He picked up his phone, opened the pages and read us some generalities.
"They operate in the so-called Northern Route ... they have international links with Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico ... the Police of Metapán protects them... they also protect themselves through hired assassins...
He made it clear that he could not give us the document. We were so insistent that in the end we came to an agreement. The Officer would prepare a report based on the questions we asked.
"Maximum nine questions," he warned us. We gave him 13, hoping he'd make the effort to answer them all.
Weeks later, The Officer gave us his answers. It was the first time we spoke of the Secret Report, which is how he referred to the document.
During those days we started to see more of The Detective. We were able to get at least five meetings with him. The Detective does not take into account isolated incidents, but complex plots that usually end with the name and last name of a politician or businessman in the country.
Playing devil's advocate, we asked him "Where do you get this information?" during one of our last meetings.
"I tell you something: until last year we had an informant who drove the car of one of the major criminals in this country, one of the brains in money laundering... I can't tell you any more."
The Police have detectives who don't spend much time caged in offices. It is a network of over 400 informants spread across the country who look, listen and follow persons sought by the National Civil Police (PNC) or the DEA, because often both institutions work together.
That was the origin of the reports that came into our hands. The First and Second Report agreed on one thing: who are the most important and most active members of the Texis cartel. Chepe Diablo, the Mayor of Metapán and El Burro are mentioned in both. The Reports have pictures of them together, at parties, at rodeos... and also show that they maintain a close relationship, that they are in touch with each other and coordinate their operations.
What kind of operations are coordinated by the cartel leaders? The reports illustrate this with facts. On Saturday night, May 8, 2010, for example, José Adán Salazar Umaña held a meeting in one of his six hotels. The appointment was in the hotel Tolteka, located at the entrance to the State of Santa Ana. He arrived in an SUV. At the meeting were Roberto Herrera, El Burro, a lawyer who the police and the cartel know as El Sapo (The Frog in English), and another cartel member who is nicknamed El Men, who had come on behalf of a money laundering specialist and who is being monitored and pursued by the Police and the DEA.
The Detective said that at the meeting, Chepe Diablo recommended that key members of the organization should avoid carrying firearms. He argued that it was inappropriate, as it was best to buy protection from the National Civil Police (PNC) and the military. To implement the recommendations he urgently proposed creating a special fund for the payment of bribes to police chiefs and military officers.
The spies had done a good job. El Burro, for example, is a man for whom the police have a record for seven criminal sentences in El Salvador, from less serious crimes to fraud and carrying, possessing and using weapons of war. This El Salvadoran citizen also has U.S. citizenship. In that country, in California and Texas, he has been arrested seven times for possession of weapons, attempted robbery, possession of a stolen vehicle, and aggravated assault with a weapon, for which he was sentenced to five years probation and a fine of 500 dollars.
On Tuesday January 18 this year at 6:42 pm, a fax marked "URGENT" arrived at the offices of Interpol in San Salvador. The message explained that two federal agencies of the United States were looking for El Burro. One of them, said the text, would not ask for extradition and the other had not yet confirmed if it would. Therefore, Interpol in Washington asked: "Please advise if your country knows the location of the aforementioned for purposes of arresting him if the decision of the second agency is positive."
A month later, Salvadoran police chased him and arrested him. The next day, La Prensa Grafica reported the fact on its cover: "Drug-trafficking suspect arrested in the West." However, they only held him for a few hours. There was some confusion between the Salvadorans and the Interpol agents in Washington. Finally, none of the two federal agencies of the United States requested extradition, so there were no grounds to detain El Burro.
In 2010 the police officers following the case in El Salvador delivered an exclusive report on El Burro, which proves that in El Salvador he has contacts at the highest level. For instance, some stories: between January and February 2010, investigators reported seeing him in a meeting at his hacienda El Rosario, in Santa Ana. He was accompanied by Police Commissioner Fritz Gerard Dennery Martinez, director of the Anti-Narcotics Division of the country. There were also people from Guatemala and Mexico at the meeting. Three of these people were later proved to be members of the Mexican cartel Los Zetas. A joint report, prepared for the present administration of the Ministry of Security and Justice, explained with greater detail the involvement of the senior official.
"He is involved with the drug traffickers operating in the West ... He has been reported by several witnesses to have received large sums of cash and also vehicles. He also provides information and clears traffic routes in western El Salvador for the criminal organization. He has participated in several meetings with El Burro and other drug traffickers from the west at the Hacienda El Rosario, located on Texis Street in Metapán," says the document.
Of all the policemen linked by the documents to the Texis drug cartel, this was the only one that created doubts in two senior police chiefs we consulted. Despite indicating no knowledge of his meetings in El Rosario, both justified Martinez, saying he is one of the key men in the fight against drug trafficking in the west of the country.
The First Report explains that El Burro and his allies operate numerous networks. For example, it says that Salazar Adán José Umaña has at least 41 people and 19 vehicles in his cocaine distribution network both domestically and internationally. It also explains that the network operates in five areas of the country: Metapan, Merliot City, Apanteos Prison, La Esperanza Prison (Mariona) and Apopa. This report has the number plate of each vehicle, the tax identification number (NIT) and the name of each of the people on the network. Internationally, the two reports agree, as do The Detective and The Commissioner, that the Texis cartel operates as an independent organization in Latin American cocaine trafficking. They are not lieutenants of the powerful Mexicans or Colombians who resurface after their years of crisis. They become employees of anyone who pays them, passing on the goods for whoever has the money.
The route starting in San Fernando is the most important link that El Salvador brings to the whole Latin American cocaine traffic that travels to the United States.
The reports range from general information to particular details. For example, an attachment to the Second Report includes the type of functions performed by El Burro within the organization. The Annex says: "On June 12, 2009, El Burro coordinated the shipment of 40 members of the MS gang to receive military-type training from the Los Zetas Group in the area known as La Laguna del Tigre, under the jurisdiction of the State of Peten, Guatemala; of the 40 gang members, 12 were from El Salvador, and the rest Hondurans and Guatemalans."
Information about the alleged relationship between gangsters and Zetas at that Lagoon in Guatemala was published in national media and even in some foreign media such as the BBC.
On July 14, 2010, police spies followed El Burro to the restaurant Lover's Steak House in Santa Ana, and what they heard there what was later written down in the 45-page report devoted to this character and his connections. He met with three guests: the police commissioner Victor Manuel Rodriguez Peraza, head of the Delegation of Santa Ana, the Deputy Inspector Nataly Pérez Rodríguez and Patricia Costa de Rodriguez, former governor of the State. She was alternate deputy for the right-wing Arena party but ended the period 2006-2009 in the leftist FMLN. In March this year she stepped down as governor to be a candidate for mayor of Santa Ana for the Arena party. At the meeting, El Burro spoke of the problems that Commissioner Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, western regional manager, was creating by refusing to cooperate with the organization for cocaine trafficking and cattle raising. Two senior police officers not involved in the preparation of this document said they knew about the collaboration of the former governor with the organization. The document said that the former official offered to negotiate the transfer of Arriaza Chicas.
"He's getting stupid, we must find a way to remove him," declared El Burro.
The document also mentions that at another meeting dated July 25, 2010, just days after the previous one, this time at the restaurant El Ganadero in the Livestock Show at Santa Ana, El Burro delivered "a roll of bills" to Commissioner Peraza and the Deputy Inspector Pérez Rodríguez.
The reports, confirmed by people in the police who were guiding us, described El Burro as a man of the highest-level contacts within the police. And this did not only refer to recent contacts, like the Commissioner mentioned above, who had been appointed to the job just five months before, El Burro handed him the roll of bills as described.
 "When José Luis Tobar Prieto was director of the Police, El Burro used him as a connection for some activities," says the report's attachment detailing the connections of El Burro. Tobar Prieto was director of the PNC until mid-2009.
In another police report attachment, which was prepared for the headquarters of the Ministry of Security and Justice, Tobar Prieto reappears as someone who was associated with organizations of drug trafficking and money laundering activities while he was director of the institution.
The First and Second Reports grew in importance when our sources added more official communications of the Police to those files. Both are rich in specific facts, but left some gaps that only the answers to the 13 questions that we made to The Official could give us the answer at that time.
Two weeks had passed since our last meeting with The Official. He had promised to think and decide if he would answer our questions, and we went to hear his decision. We waited half an hour until someone told us that The Official was busy in a meeting, but that he wanted to say something to us. We entered his office. He didn't let us say a word. He was really pressed for time.
"Look, I already warned you, you know what you are getting into here. I can't give you the document but you have half an hour to get from it all the information you can, "he said, and immediately threw on to a table a document marked "Secret" on every page. For the first time we had to ourselves a report that didn't come from the police, the Secret Report from one of the institutions of the Security Department, that had the answers to our 13 questions with intelligence data, and ranged from the identities of the trusted men of Chepe Diablo to which officials support him and a description of the system of storage and transportation of the cocaine.
 When leaving the office of The Official we had, for the first time, the three reports that form the basis of this investigation. We analysed and compared them and got routes backed by maps, matching names of police officers, deputies and mayors, and links to murders and gang members. Afterwards we corroborated all the information, going twice along the Caminito and visiting other parts of the country, which allowed us to talk with military in the field, former policemen frustrated by the border dynamics of cooperation, and tax inspectors. We also studied business records, tax returns and reports included in the international arrest warrants.
Those identified as the ringleaders of the cartel are entrepreneurs immersed in the market for grains, livestock, soccer officials, hotel owners... The latter business, hotels, did shine a light on Chepe Diablo. It was that way that a tax official began to notice his financial bonanza and become suspicious. This former prosecutor of the Financial Crimes Unit had known about José Adán Salazar since 2003.
"He's a man who looks like an accountant. His office was in the basement of the Capital Hotel in San Salvador. His hotels have never been full, and that is a very well-known way to launder money: engaging in services that no one can see," said the former prosecutor.
"But he wasn't formally under investigation?" we asked.
"Let me explain: he has always been suspected of laundering money, but I'd be lying if I told you that someone was working correctly on this here, because to do this you have to have a green light. And getting him into court is entirely a different issue."

Extracto de informe de inteligencia sobre Cártel de Texis

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