July 27, 2017 at 6:11 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Gang member suspected of killing LGBT Salvadorans in U.S. custody

Daniela and Yasuri were two trans women who were killed in San Luís Talpa, El Salvador, on Feb. 18, 2017. A Justice Department spokesperson declined to say whether a gang member who is in U.S. custody is suspected of killing them and another trans woman.

The Justice Department on Thursday announced a gang member who allegedly killed three LGBT people in El Salvador is in U.S. custody.

A press release says the gang member, who was a member of MS-13’s Peajes Locos Salvatruchas Clique, earlier this year shot the three people in La Paz Department “who were believed to have committed extortions without authorization from MS-13.” It also notes he and other members of the MS-13 clique “committed several” other “high profile murders” in the area, which is roughly an hour southeast of the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.

The press release says the gang member, who is not identified by name, fled to the U.S. after the murders. He is in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“ICE agents in El Salvador are coordinating with their counterparts in the United States to ensure that he is quickly removed and brought back to El Salvador to face charges,” it reads.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday met with his Salvadoran counterpart, Douglas Menéndez, in San Salvador. The meeting coincided with the arrest of more than 700 gang members who are affiliated with MS-13 and other gang members.

Three transgender women were killed in San Luis Talpa, a municipality in La Paz Department, earlier this year. A Justice Department spokesperson on Thursday declined to comment on whether the gang member who is in U.S. custody is a suspect in their murders.

Salvadoran immigrants who fled their Central American homeland’s civil war in the 1980s formed MS-13 in Los Angeles. Violence associated with MS-13 — which has active members in the D.C. metropolitan area — and other gangs and drug trafficking have made El Salvador and neighboring Honduras two of the world’s most violent countries.

Karla Avelar, a trans woman who is the executive director of Asociación Comunicando y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans, a Salvadoran advocacy group known by the acronym COMCAVIS TRANS, said gang members threatened her two days after she was chosen as a finalist for an international human rights award. Other advocates in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala with whom the Washington Blade spoke earlier this year during a reporting trip to Central America said gangs routinely target LGBT people.

Billy Rivera of Asociación de Generación de Hombres Trans de El Salvador, a San Salvador-based group that advocates on behalf of trans Salvadoran men, said poverty and a lack of education and economic opportunities make trans people particularly vulnerable to gang violence. Stacy Velásquez of Organización Trans Reina de la Noche, a Guatemala City-based group that advocates on behalf of trans sex workers, told the Blade a trans woman with whom she works fled to Guatemala after a gang member tried to slit her throat.

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, a San Salvador-based LGBT advocacy group, noted during an interview at her office that gangs also target children.

“If you don’t give your children to the gang they kill you and they kill your children,” she told the Blade.

This violence has prompted LGBT people and hundreds of thousands of others to flee El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

President Trump in January signed an executive order that spurs construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. This mandate and the White House’s pledge to expedite the deportation of undocumented immigrants from the country has sparked concern throughout the region.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

1 Comment
  • I find it highly unlikely that three transwoean would try to commit extortion in El Salvador. They are seen as weak and isolated, so they hold very little leverage and they are in a very dangerous position to begin with. Transwomen are extremely vulnerable to extortion by the gangs. I don’t know why you are making the leap to connect the extortion to the transwomen, given that the authorities did not say the individual is suspected in the transwomen’s murders.

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