SAN SALVADOR – Authorities at a prison in eastern El Salvador discovered a tunnel over the weekend and foiled an escape attempt by gang members, officials said.
The tunnel was found Sunday morning at the prison in Ciudad Barrios, where members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang are housed.
“The prison operations group and police, via the Unit for the Maintenance of Order (UMO), found a two-meter (6.5-foot) deep and 16-meter-long (52-foot-long) tunnel in sector three of the prison in Ciudad Barrios,” national prison service director Douglas Moreno said.
Authorities had intelligence indicating that a tunnel was being constructed at the prison and inmates “needed only about 16 meters to reach their objective,” Moreno said.
The tunnel’s discovery foiled the escape of “at least 100 inmates” at the prison, which is located in San Miguel, about 156 kilometers (97 miles) east of San Salvador, and which houses 2,228 prisoners.
Prison officials declared a state of emergency for an indefinite period at the penitentiary, suspending visits by inmates’ relatives, Moreno said.
El Salvador’s two largest violent youth gangs, known as “maras,” are Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha.
Mara Salvatrucha is a criminal organization that evolved on the streets of Los Angeles during the 1980s, with most of its members young Salvadorans whose parents fled their nation’s erstwhile civil war for the United States.
Because many of the gang members were born in El Salvador, they were subject to deportation when rounded up during immigration crackdowns in California in the 1990s.
Sent “home” to a land they barely knew, they formed gangs that spread throughout El Salvador and to neighboring countries in Central America, where membership is now counted in the tens, or even hundreds of thousands, and gang members are engaged in murder, drug dealing, kidnapping and people smuggling.
In addition to those activities, gang members are blamed throughout Central America for a spike in rapes and robberies, and for running protection rackets to extort “taxes” from bus companies and owners of small businesses.
Police estimate that some 10,000 gang members, most of them affiliated either with Mara 18 or Mara Salvatrucha operate in El Salvador.