MS13 Prison Releases Reinforce Potential Pact with El Salvador


Though he did not have any apparent health problems, a top MS13 leader was transferred from a prison to a hospital in El Salvador — a move approved by the prison director, leading to heightened speculation of a government pact with the street gang. 

Last October, Osiris Luna Meza, El Salvador’s director of prisons and an ally of President Nayib Bukele, authorized the transfer of Danilo Antonio Colocho Hernández, alias “Chino Milo,” from a prison located in Izalco to a hospital in Zacatecoluca, 128 kilometers southeast of the city. A recent investigation by El Faro reveals that though Chino Milo was found to be in optimal health when the transfer occurred. 

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The country’s Attorney General’s Official has named Chino Milo as the right-hand man of Borromeo Henríquez, alias “Diablito de Hollywood,” one of the historical leaders in the Ranfla Nacional, the governing committee for the MS13 in El Salvador. Henríquez was also one of the main protagonists of the controversial 2012 gang truce.

SEE ALSO: How El Salvador President Bukele Deals with Gangs

On October 6, Mario Herrera, chief medical officer at Izalco prison, received an “order from above” to endorse Chino Milo’s hospital transfer, according to El Faro. The order came from one of Luna Meza’s assistants, El Faro reported. 

Herrara personally evaluated the gang member and determined the hospital transfer was not needed, writing in a report that “as the medical coordinator at this prison, I find myself in the difficult position of not being able to write an endorsement for the release of the inmate as requested, given that, according to my medical evaluation, he does not need to be referred for an emergency.”

According to El Faro, the Chino Milo transfer is the latest case in which the Bukele government, via Luna Meza, has allowed MS13 leaders to leave jail in unclear circumstances. The list includes Diablito de Hollywood and Carlos Tiberio Valladares, alias “Snyder de Pasadena.” 

According to a previous investigation by El Faro, Luna Meza met with Diablito, Snyder and other MS13 leaders in a maximum-security prison in Zacatecoluca in January 2020 to seek their collaboration on a number of fronts, including reducing homicide rates and providing support for Bukele’s New Ideas (Nuevas Ideas) party during elections. 

Last September, the Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation to determine whether government officials committed any crimes in their interactions with the gangs, which Salvadoran law designates as terrorist organizations.

InSight Crime Analysis

Though the government denies it, the transfer of the MS13 leader adds to evidence of favor trading between Bukele’s government and El Salvador’s deadly street gangs — the MS13 and two factions of the Barrio 18 gang — to reduce homicides.

Bukele has taken credit for the significant drop in murders. When Bukele took power, the homicide rate was 36 per 100,000 residents. By the end of 2020, it had decreased to 19.5 per 100,000 residents. 

Bukele and his officials, including Luna Meza, have argued that the drop is due to Bukele’s Territorial Control Plan (Plan Control Territorial), a government strategy to improve public safety that includes old measures, such as deploying the army and mass arrests of alleged gang members. However, investigations by InSight Crime and El Faro, as well as think tank International Crisis Group, have pointed to the likelihood that the gangs themselves reduced the homicide rate in exchange for favors from the government. 

SEE ALSO: Homicide Drop in El Salvador: Presidential Triumph or Gang Trend?

An InSight Crime investigation, published in October 2020, found that Bukele and his associates had put in place a quid pro quo agreement with gangs when he ran for mayor of San Salvador in 2014. 

This pact saw gang members inside and outside the prison system meet with government officials to foment trust and trade favors, including allowing Bukele and his allies to campaign in gang-dominated areas. 

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