Treasury officials could not say how much money associated with MS-13 gang members is moving through the United States. But a departmental spokesman told The Daily Beast, “We know that money generated by local MS-13 cliques in the U.S. is consolidated and funneled to the group’s leadership in El Salvador.”For the most part, it looks as if the move by the Treasury Department is primarily an effort to get out in front the MS-13 rather than an attempt to tackle a current problem.
But there are signs that the gang is “actively working to recruit new members, move into new territories, and expand its networks,” a Treasury Department official told The Daily Beast on Monday. Specifically, officials are concerned that gang members could begin to obtain ownership in legal businesses or make other legitimate investments with U.S. companies.
Such an expansion would mark a dangerous moment in the growth of MS-13, which has not so far been known as a money-making enterprise, according to ICE special agent in charge James T. Hayes.That might explain why President Funes said that that the US is overestimating the economic power of the MS-13. He is looking at its power today and in comparison to other transnational criminal organizations. The U.S. Treasury Department, on the other hand, is looking to what the MS-13 might become and is taking preemptive steps to avoid the MS-13 turning into the next major transnational organized crime group.
Finally, DeLuca includes an email exchange that he had with George Grayson, a professor of Latin American politics at the College of William & Mary.
“Declaring a group a transnational criminal organization can pay off big time,” Grayson wrote The Daily Beast in an email. But Grayson said the U.S. government could run into problems getting cooperation from authorities in El Salvador, Guatemala, and other Central American countries, who may be too intimidated by the gang to take any significant action.I don't buy this one. I don't get the impression that the authorities are intimidated by the MS-13. There are several other explanations that I would put forth before accepting the intimidation argument. Here are two. Local authorities are simply overwhelmed by the challenge of thousands of gang members. They just don't have enough financial resources or state capacity. Second, some officials are complicit and/or are somehow profiting from the gangs and therefore have little incentive to challenge them head on.
In Guatemala, its been agonizingly difficult to get the congress to pass legislation against illicit enrichment. Going after dirty money moving between the United States and Central America is going to catch a lot more than MS-13 money.