Violence in Guatemala

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 10, 2019 by dsmith41

Emma Lightizer

In the last half of the twentieth century, Guatemala was defined by its 36-year-long civil war and the genocide it committed against indigenous Maya in the 1980s (Martin). Today, violence against women and indigenous people, drug trafficking, gang activity, and weak or corrupt state and local authorities present persistent risks to people’s personal security.

            Drug-trafficking organizations and Central American gangs are not the same thing, but both do exist in Guatemala. Gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 cause many of the same violent problems in Guatemala as they do in other Central American countries: territory disputes, rape, murder, extortion, and robbery. However, drug-trafficking organizations have a special interest in Guatemala because the country’s position just south of Mexico’s border makes it a crucial pathway for the transit of drugs into the United States (Martínez 46). Traditionally, drug-trafficking work was outsourced to local gang cliques or independent drug traffickers in the country. In recent years, though, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations have built a stronger and more constant physical presence in Guatemala, claiming several towns and cities as their territories (Martínez 163). The introduction of the Zetas, an especially violent Mexican drug-trafficking organization, has greatly reduced citizens’ security in the city of Alta Verapaz as well as the other areas where they operate (Martínez 50).

            Drug-related violence also extends to state and local authorities. For example, in 2013, every police officer present in an entire station was killed in retaliation for the arrest of a drug trafficker’s son (Martínez 145). The “Massacre of Salcajá,” as the event was called, initiated the launch of an investigation, openly called “Operation Dignity,” but it was ineffective in ending the control that narcotraffickers had over the region (Martínez 153). Police and other authorities in Guatemala are often too weak to do much to control drug traffickers, and impunity runs wild as a result.

Instead of getting tangled up with strong organizations, Guatemalan authorities often target weaker, individual drug-traffickers or poor “campesino” farmers they accuse of growing drugs and invading protected forest land (Martínez 64). This gives authorities the advantage of looking like they’re dealing with the problem while simultaneously not risking a firefight with large-scale organizations (Martínez 66). In some localities, this is also the result of corrupt politicians who explicitly work with larger drug-trafficking organizations to secure a monopoly on the trade in their area (Martínez 70). This has meant that many poor and indigenous farmers have been accused of working with drug traffickers and have been kicked off their land and deprived of their livelihoods (Martínez 73).

In addition to these types of violence that affect all Guatemalans, there are particular dangers for women and indigenous people. Guatemala is the country with the third highest rate of femicide globally, and women are also very likely to be victims of rape and domestic violence (Johnson). The impunity that exists for other crimes in Guatemala extends to violence against women, but is perhaps even more intense due to a widespread indifference to the human rights of women. This means that women generally do not receive protection from the state, while they are simultaneously at a higher risk of becoming victims of violence (Johnson). In some cases, local authorities are even complicit or feign ignorance to allow sex trafficking rings to maintain operation. For example, the Barberena ring in southern Guatemala operated for several years while local police officers enjoyed the status of “VIP clients” and took part in the rape and sexual assault of the women held there (Martínez 219).

Indigenous people, and especially Maya, are common targets of kidnapping, assault, and murder (Martin). They are also frequently among those campesinos who are kicked off their land and accused of being narcos. Recent up-ticks in violence against indigenous people, and especially against indigenous activists, have brought about concerns of a return to the cycle of violence that initiated the genocide of Maya people in the 1980s (Martin).

Bibliography:

Johnson, Sarah. “Can Health Workers Stop Thousands of Women Being Killed in Guatemala?” The Guardian. March 07, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2018/mar/07/health-workers-stop-thousand-women-killed-guatemala-femicide.

Martin, Maria. “Killings Of Guatemala’s Indigenous Activists Raise Specter Of Human Rights Crisis.” NPR. January 22, 2019. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/22/685505116/killings-of-guatemalas-indigenous-activists-raise-specter-of-human-rights-crisis.

Martínez, Óscar Enrique. A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America. London: Verso, 2017.

Further Reading:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/guatemalas-bloody-battle-with-mexican-drug-cartels-6257571.html

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-guatemala-humantrafficking/guatemala-closes-its-eyes-to-rampant-child-sex-trafficking-u-n-idUSKCN0YU29V

https://www.npr.org/2019/01/22/685505116/killings-of-guatemalas-indigenous-activists-raise-specter-of-human-rights-crisis

https://www.insightcrime.org/investigations/guatemalas-small-businesses-pot-of-gold/

Violence in El Salvador

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 10, 2019 by dsmith41

Emma Lightizer

El Salvador has been gripped by violence since its twelve-year civil war that ended in 1992. At the time, thousands of Salvadorans sought asylum in the United States, and some of them ended up forming gangs for mutual protection in Los Angeles. When the United States initiated its policy of deporting foreign nationals found guilty of committing a crime in the United States, gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 were exported to El Salvador and grew to unprecedented levels of membership and violence. Decades after that initial increase in gang activity, what does violence in El Salvador look like?

            Most violence comes in the form of extortion, rape, and murders (especially of people aligned with rival gangs). Extortion is the main source of income for many cliques (Wolf 78). Gang members feel entitled to demand “rent” from local businesses: regular payments from bus drivers, local shops, restaurants, students, and teachers (Savenije 153). These payments are accompanied with threats of physical violence, robbery, or murder, and if anyone is unable to pay, they are forced out of business or killed (Wolf 78). An inability or unwillingness to pay gangs extortion money leads to hundreds of retaliatory murders and dozens of arson cases, among other violent consequences (Wolf 78). Gang members have no remorse for this method of getting money because “nobody gives us [gang members] work,” (Savenije 153).

Rape of women and children is also common in El Salvador. Gang members often demand sex and use their power over certain territories to force women and girls to comply (UNHCR 9). They sometimes use rape as a bargaining tool, promising not to use other forms of violence if girls are compliant: for example, gang members told one eight-year-old girl that they wouldn’t kill her little brother if she let them rape her, then they killed both children anyway (Martínez 118).

In El Salvador, many types of murders are common; these include retaliatory killings in cases of extortion or refusal to join a gang, the murder of women or girls who refuse to sleep with gang members, and sicariato (murder for hire) (Wolf 85). It is also common for gang members to kidnap and murder wealthier individuals as an additional source of income; they use their credit cards, steal their belongings, or post a ransom for them under the false premise that they are not yet dead (Wolf 82). Murder is also common against ex-gang members who testify in court; for example, El Niño Hollywood was murdered in 2014 after he testified against nineteen fellow gang members for murder (Martínez 139). Although he was supposedly under witness protection by the state, and although his murder occurred within mere meters of the police station, “there was never any search for or investigation of the killers” (Martínez 139). El Niño’s case was not unusual: most murders in El Salvador go uninvestigated, and even when investigations into murders or mass graves do occur, they are often underfunded and therefore unsuccessful.

A large portion of the murders that occur are directed against rival gang members (Wolf 85). Disputes over territory lead to shoot-outs, and murders of rival gang members are sometimes required as initiation rites (Wolf 72). Additionally, gangs sometimes kill “homeboys that couldn’t handle their shit”: that is, they kill fellow gang members who endanger other members through recklessness or who cannot deal with the harshness of gang life (Martínez 99). Even within overfilled jails, rivalries are not controlled and sometimes lead to massacres (Martínez 176). In cases like the Mariona massacre of 2004 or the Apanteos massacre in 2011, rivalries between MS-13, Barrio 18, and civilian prisoners erupt and inmates break down the walls in order to “pull out nails,” or collect payment for debts and exact revenge for past wrongs (Martínez 174). Guards are unable to stop these massacres from happening and often don’t even try to. For example, the warden of Apanteos said of the 2011 massacre that “[w]e can’t be held responsible for what we can’t avoid” (Martínez 169). The lack of resources both inside and outside of jails means that impunity is widespread for crimes committed by Salvadoran gangs.

Bibliography:

“Children on the Run – Full Report.” UNHCR, 2014, www.unhcr.org/en-us/about-us/ background/56fc266f4/children-on-the-run-full-report.html.

Martínez, Óscar Enrique. A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America. London: Verso, 2017.

Savenije, Wim. Maras Y Barras: Pandillas Y Violencia Juvenil En Los Barrios Marginales De Centroamérica. El Salvador: Facultad Latinoamericana De Ciencias Sociales, 2009

Wolf, Sonja. “Mara Salvatrucha: The Most Dangerous Street Gang in the Americas?”. Latin American Politics and Society 54, no. 1 (2012): 65-99. (JSTOR)

Further Reading:

https://www.thenation.com/article/diary-of-not-excavating-a-mass-grave-in-el-salvador/

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/el-salvador-women-gangs-ms-13-trump-violence/554804/

https://www.crisisgroup.org/latin-america-caribbean/central-america/el-salvador/life-under-gang-rule-el-salvador

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-el-salvador-extortion-idUSKCN0Y71QW

Nicaragua – Recent History

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 10, 2019 by dsmith41

Emma Lightizer

From 1937 until 1979, Nicaragua was politically and militarily controlled by a U.S.-supported dictatorship led by three members of the Somoza family in turn: Anastasio Somoza García, Luis Somoza Debayle, and Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Although they were not formally the only heads of state during that time, the three of them combined held the Presidency for thirty years and worked through puppet leaders during the other thirteen years of their collective control (Brown).

            The dictatorship became more repressive under the leadership of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In 1967, his regime carried out a massacre in front of the National Assembly building (Arévalo Alemán). It is estimated that at least 200 people were killed and one thousand wounded out of the thousands who were there peacefully protesting the lack of free elections (Arévalo Alemán). In response to attempts by Sandinista (FSLN) revolutionaries to overthrow the dictatorship, Somoza Debayle ruled under martial law from 1974 onward (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Finally, U.S. President Carter withdrew support for the regime, and in 1979 Somoza Debayle was forced by the Sandinistas and the Conservative party to resign from his position; he was later assassinated in Paraguay (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

            When Somoza lost power, the Sandinistas gained control of the country and Daniel Ortega assumed the presidency. He nationalized many businesses and tried to maintain control over the country through the use of force, and despite Carter’s attempts to court favor, Nicaragua was soon aligned with Cuba and the USSR (Brown). When Reagan became president in the U.S., he stopped the policy of trying to appease the Sandinista government and instead helped fund and train Nicaraguan “Contras,” counter-revolutionaries based in neighboring Honduras that wanted to oust the Sandinista party from power (Brown). As interventionary tactics had lost favor with the general populace in the wake of the Vietnam War, the CIA turned to covert and illegal operations, funneling weapons and aid to the Contras through Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra Scandal (Brown). Although the operation drew massive protest from the U.S. when it came to light, it was successful in aiding the counter-revolutionary cause, such that by 1989 the Sandinistas had all but lost to the Contras. In 1990, Ortega was beaten in an internationally-observed election, and the Sandinistas officially lost power (Encyclopedia.com).

            From 1990 to 2007, Nicaragua had an uneasy democracy that contended with the huge national debt, the downsizing and conversion of the Sandinista military into a national military, and high unemployment (Encyclopedia.com). On top of this, Nicaragua had to confront the historical legacy of the revolution and counterrevolution, which cost a combined estimate of 65,000 lives between 1978 and 1990 (Lacina, 404-6).

            In 2007, Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista party returned to power through an election (Pérez). Since then, Ortega has worked to solidify Sandinista control over all branches of government by appointing members of his own party to several judicial and legislative positions  (Pérez). He has maintained his position through questionable elections, and many criticize him for undermining Nicaragua’s developing democracy. In 2018, popular protests erupted in response to social security reforms that cost people more while giving them worse benefits (Pérez). Ortega’s government responded violently, working with parapolice forces to kill over 200 protesters (Pérez). In the wake of Ortega’s violent tactics of political control, some people have begun comparing him to Somoza, with bad implications for the future of Nicaraguan democracy.

Bibliography:

“Anastasio Somoza Debayle.” Encyclopædia Britannica. April 21, 2019. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Anastasio-Somoza-Debayle.

Arévalo Alemán, Raúl. “Hoy Se Recuerda La Masacre Del 22 De Enero De 1967 Por La Dictadura De Somoza Debayle.” La Jornada. January 22, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://lajornadanet.com/diario/archivo/2016/enero/22/4.php.

Lacina, Bethany. PRIO. September 2009. Accessed May 9, 2019. https://www.prio.org/Global/upload/CSCW/Data/PRIObd3.0_documentation.pdf.

“Nicaragua and Iran Timeline.” Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs. Accessed May 9, 2019. https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/timeline-n-i.php.

Pérez, Orlando J. “Can Nicaragua’s Military Prevent a Civil War?” Foreign Policy. July 03, 2018. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/07/03/can-nicaraguas-military-prevent-a-civil-war/.

“Violeta Barrios De Chamorro.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2019. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/nicaragua-history-biographies/violeta-barrios-de-chamorro.

Further Reading:

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/nicaragua-on-the-brink-once-again https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/07/03/can-nicaraguas-military-prevent-a-civil-war/

https://www.brown.edu/Research/Understanding_the_Iran_Contra_Affair/timeline-n-i.php

https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/nicaragua-history-biographies/violeta-barrios-de-chamorro

Mano Dura (Firm Hand) policies in Central America

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 10, 2019 by dsmith41

Emma Lightizer

Gangs have been an issue in El Salvador since before its twelve-year civil war ended in 1992. However, the problem became much more visible and violent after the United States initiated its policy of deporting any foreign nationals found guilty of committing a crime. Thousands of gang members from the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, both founded in the U.S., were deported to their countries of origin, intensifying the violence and instability already present in Central America during the 1990s.

One set of policies that Central American countries have employed to try to gain control over the gang problem is known as “Mano Dura,” meaning “firm hand” or “iron fist.” In El Salvador, this policy was first put in place by President Francisco Flores in 2003 (Wolf 49). Mano Dura created joint military and police anti-gang squads who made a spectacle out of arrests, hoping to gain public support by looking tough on gangs. The policy also included the Ley Anti Maras, or Anti-Gang Law, which made gang membership itself a crime and allowed the squads to arrest people based on their appearance alone (Wolf 50). The law applied to anyone at least twelve years of age, meaning that many children were arrested for looking like gang members (Wolf 50). However, the Ley Anti Maras was challenged in court, and many judges refused to charge those arrested for alleged gang membership on the grounds that the Ley Anti Maras violated Salvadorans’ constitutional rights. Ninety-five percent of those arrested under the law were released without charges due to lack of evidence (Wolf 51).

There were several claims that Mano Dura wasn’t doing enough, so the policy was rebranded as “Súper Mano Dura” under the next president, Antonio Saca. This version of the law added “Mano Amiga” and “Mano Extendida,” purported policies of rehabilitation and prevention for gang members, but the two new policies were more talk than reality. They were chronically underfunded and poorly organized, and were only there to offer the president some credibility on paper of taking a more complex approach to the gang problem. Official policy continued to ignore the realms of prevention and rehabilitation, instead focusing on harsher punishments against gang members (Wolf 54).

Although Mano Dura is a Salvadoran policy, it has corollaries in other Central American countries. Honduras, for example, launched its “Blue Freedom Plan” the year before Flores’ Mano Dura in El Salvador. Honduras’ plan included several of the same measures as Mano Dura: zero tolerance, the cooperation of police and military forces against gangs, and the use of tattoos and other physical traits as markers of gang membership (García). In Guatemala, indiscriminate arrests of possible gang members were initiated in 2003 under “Plan Sweep.” Even though this and other anti-gang legislation was explicitly rejected by Guatemalan courts, officials continued to arrest suspected gang members under a zero tolerance policy; much like in El Salvador, most of these arrests were overturned due to a lack of evidence (García).

All of these policies have been wildly unsuccessful–and even counterproductive. Since gang members were being targeted based on appearance, they adapted and started being less obvious about their gang membership, hiding tattoos under clothing or foregoing them altogether (Wolf 72). More importantly, the abuses by police under the Mano Dura policies led gang members to be even more distrustful of authorities and therefore more loyal to their gangs and fellow members. The gangs became close-knit in a way that makes rehabilitation a much more formidable challenge than it was before (Wolf 72). Additionally, the few arrests that did successfully lead to imprisonments were counterproductive: now, gangs are run from within prisons by gang members who gained street credit through their arrests. Since the prisons are overcrowded and poorly run, clique leaders are able to work with their gangs and order hits from within the relative safety of the prison: after all, they cannot be arrested again while they are still in prison (Wolf 72). The legacy of Mano Dura-type policies has been one of increased violence, better organization of gangs, and failure of governments to successfully introduce any significant rehabilitation or prevention efforts against gangs.

Bibliography:

García, Carlos. “Tracing the History of Failed Gang Policies in US, Northern Triangle.” InSight Crime. September 20, 2017. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://insightcrime.org/news/analysis/tracing-the-history-of-failed-gang-policies-in-us-northern-triangle/.

Wolf, Sonja. Mano Dura: The Politics of Gang Control in El Salvador. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

Further Reading:

https://insightcrime.org/news/analysis/tracing-the-history-of-failed-gang-policies-in-us-northern-triangle/

https://www.insightcrime.org/investigations/how-mano-dura-is-strengthening-gangs/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/06/el-salvador-gangs-police-violence-distrito-italia

https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/24136/el-salvador-s-iron-fist-crackdown-on-gangs-a-lethal-policy-with-u-s-origins

Dangers on the Migrant Path

Posted in Migrant Experience with tags , , on May 10, 2019 by dsmith41

Emma Lightizer

Although many people have fled their countries to seek refuge in the United States in recent years, the decision to do so is a serious one that must take into account the dangers of migration itself. It’s important to know what kinds of risks migrants face on their way to the U.S. because it grants a crucial perspective on the severity of what they are fleeing from. Those who choose to leave feel safer taking the risks of migration than continuing to live in their home countries. What are the risks these migrants take–or in other words, what exactly is escape worth to them?

            Whether a migrant travels alone or with help from a professional “coyote” who specializes in smuggling migrants over the border, there are opportunities for abuse at nearly every stage of the undocumented migration process, in addition to the natural, physical dangers inherent in the journey (Shetty). Notable among the dangers are human trafficking, extortion, robbery, kidnap, murder, threats by federal governments or local police officers, and death by exposure in the desert (Shetty). Women and children are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, although the trip is a dangerous one no matter the identity of the migrant (Shetty).

            In strictly financial terms, migration is expensive. A reputable coyote will demand at least $7,000 USD per person for a trip to the United States starting from El Salvador; depending on the country of origin, this number may shift a bit (Martínez 248). This sum includes the coyote’s pay as well as bribe money for police, immigration officials, and the gangs and drug-trafficking organizations that control territory along the route (Martínez 249). Failure to pay any of those people the amount they demand can result in kidnap, physical assault, rape, human trafficking, or murder. Sometimes, police work with local criminal organizations; if migrants won’t pay bribe money, then police hand them over to human traffickers or gangs in exchange for a cut of the pay. In some cases, police “officers themselves [are] VIP clients” of sex trafficking rings, and will therefore return migrants who escape back to their abusers (Martínez 219). Since local authorities in many rural areas along the route are so easily corrupted, there is very rarely legal recourse for migrants who are abused by police or by criminal organizations.

A migrant who tries to make the trip without the help of a good coyote runs the risk of not knowing how much money they will need to pay off criminal organizations and cops, and it’s possible that they will run out of money before they are able to get all the way through Central America and Mexico. These people are especially likely to become victims of criminal organizations. People who try to use the help of a particularly cheap coyote are often also at risk: usually, cheap prices will mean that the coyote has either not taken into account the money demanded by criminal organizations on the way or that they do not plan on bringing the migrant to their destination (Martínez 250). In some cases, cheap “coyotes” will even bring migrants to criminal organizations and sell them rather than actually helping them (Martínez 252).

Even beyond all the abuses migrants face at the hands of other people, migration carries other risks that are inherent to the environment of the route itself. Most profoundly, the desert provides a host of dangers for the migrant. Because of extreme temperatures–hot in the day and cold at night–it is common for migrants to die from exposure while trying to cross the desert (Androff and Tavassoli 168). This is especially common for migrants who go alone or are separated from their coyote and get lost in the desert. Attempts by humanitarian groups in the U.S. to leave water in shelter areas for migrants who are crossing the desert have been met with hostility by governments in the region, and those who have left water have been criminally prosecuted for littering (Androff and Tavassoli 168). These prosecutions and related policies stem from generalized xenophobia and the refusal to see migrants as humans.

Bibliography:

Androff, David, and Kyoko Tavassoli. “Deaths in the Desert: The Human Rights Crisis on the U.S.–Mexico Border.” Social Work 57, no. 2 (April 1, 2012): 168.

Martínez, Óscar Enrique. A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America. London: Verso, 2017.

Shetty, Salil. “Most Dangerous Journey: What Central American Migrants Face When They Try to Cross the Border.” Amnesty International USA. February 20, 2014. Accessed May 10, 2019. https://www.amnestyusa.org/most-dangerous-journey-what-central-american-migrants-face-when-they-try-to-cross-the-border/.

Further Reading:

https://www.amnestyusa.org/most-dangerous-journey-what-central-american-migrants-face-when-they-try-to-cross-the-border/

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/10/migrant-caravans-might-become-even-more-common/573964/

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-centralamerica-youth-migrants/central-american-child-migrants-move-in-shadows-at-risk-from-traffickers-u-n-idUSKBN1L10YD

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/feb/21/mexico-kidnappings-refugees-central-america-immigration

U.S. Intervention in Latin America 1970-Present

Posted in US-Latin America Relations with tags , , , , , , on April 16, 2019 by dsmith41

David Smith

There have been two phases of United States intervention in Latin America since 1970. The older, first phase is the Cold War in which the United States funded Latin military governments and their wars against communist insurgencies. The second phase is the War on Drugs through which the United States has pressured Latin American states into prohibitionist politics, helping to organize and fund anti-drug efforts across the Western Hemisphere. These two contexts are related to each other, they overlap and interact with each other in complex ways, but the justifications for why the United States has stayed so intimately involved in the domestic affairs of Latin America have changed over time, and it is important to understand the magnitude of impact the US has had on its neighbors to the South.

Cold War interventions in Central America date back to the CIA-sponsored coup in Guatemala in 1954. After what was regarded by the CIA as a massive success, they tried a similar approach with Cuba in 1961 with the Bay of Pigs invasion, this time with disastrous results. The Cuban situation was massively embarrassing, and it became necessary for the US to increase their commitment to fighting communism across the region. In the 1970s, the United States was very involved in aiding Central American militaries in their fight against communism. The United States supplied Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua with direct military aid to help in their dirty wars. The friendly regimes in Honduras and Panama were used as bases of operations to carry out U.S. assistance to these places. The regimes to which the U.S. supplied weapons, training, and financial aid were known to be abusers of human rights, but Cold War hawks in the United States regarded this as a necessary evil in the international war on communism. The Carter administration tried to change course by denying aid to gross human rights violators, but the successful Sandinista Revolution in 1979 and the subsequent election of Ronald Reagan changed this approach.

The Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua was a watershed event, arguably as or more important to modern Central American history as was the Cuban Revolution. The communist insurgencies that existed in Guatemala and El Salvador turned into brutal Civil Wars, and the Reagan administration responded by providing billions in dollars of aid to the governments and paramilitaries fighting these communists. Though the Cold War ended in 1989, the legacy of the wars the United States fought in the name of anti-communism have had far-reaching impacts into today.

In the 1970’s, the United States had begun to get serious about the War on Drugs. In particular, the United States was targeting Mexico and the Sinaloa region that was supplying the marijuana that had fueled the counter-culture revolution. However, as the US targeted Mexico, production shifted to Colombia. The United States then became involved in fighting wars against the newly formed Colombian cartels and continued implementing crop eradication programs that disproportionately harmed poorer indigenous people. In Colombia, we see an acute intersection between the Cold War and the War on drugs. As the United States and the Colombian government fought the communist FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), they also fought the drug cartels who were pumping tons and tons of drugs into the United States. When the United States and Colombia finally defeated Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, the FARC took over coca-growing operations and made alliances with Mexican cartels, namely the Sinaloa cartel, who now controlled the trade.

The United States has continued to fight the War on Drugs at home and abroad. From discouraging coca production in the Andes to prosecuting corruption in Central America to helping the Mexican government fight a vicious war against the cartels to criminalizing the consumption and distribution of drugs here at home, the United States has remained invested in an expensive and ineffective multi-front war. The War on Drugs is not the only modern example of United States intervention. In 2009, the US was involved in the Honduran coup in which the Honduran military, who has enjoyed a close relationship with Washington over the years, ousted a democratically elected president. Most recently, US Ambassador John Bolton has been considering intervening militarily in Venezuela. The examples that have been discussed have largely been instances where the United States has directly intervened with military and financial aid, but it is also worth considering that the United States has used a variety of political and financial organizations to influence domestic and foreign policies of Latin American governments. A third phase, in addition to the Cold War and the War on Drugs, could be understood as a neo-liberal phase in which the United States ensured loans to governments who would pass more US-friendly laws. Suffice it to say that though the United States does does not completely dominate the hemisphere as they have at different points in history, the US remains embedded in Latin American economies and politics.

Sources:

Stephen Rabe, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012

Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. policy towards Latin America, Harvard University Press, 2003.

Further Reading:

  1. For a brief history and timeline of US intervention in Latin America, see https://www.apnews.com/2ded14659982426c9b2552827734be83
  2. For more information on the CIA-sponsored coup and the subsequent Civil War on Guatemala, see https://blog.uvm.edu/sosten-centralamerica/2019/03/23/guatemala-recent-history-present/
  3. For more information about the evolution of the drug trade and the war on drugs in Latin America, see https://blog.uvm.edu/sosten-centralamerica/2019/04/11/overview-of-the-drug-trade-1970s-present/
  4. To read more about the United States’ role in the 2009 Honduran coup and subsequent militarization and repression, see https://theintercept.com/2017/08/29/honduras-coup-us-defense-departmetnt-center-hemispheric-defense-studies-chds/
  5. To read briefly about John Bolton’s policy towards Venezuela, see https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2019/01/28/john-bolton-notepad-troops-colombia-venezuela-military-intervention/2705957002/

Overview of the Latin American Drug Trade, 1970s-Present

Posted in Mexico, US-Latin America Relations with tags , , , , , , on April 11, 2019 by dsmith41

David Smith

Today, people in the United States consume at least $100 billion in illicit drugs per year, making it easily the largest drug market in the world. The staples of the illicit drug economy have historically been marijuana, cocaine, heroin, with methamphetamine, fentanyl, and other prescription pills joining more recently. Drug culture and the drug trade in the United States has existed at least since the mid-nineteenth century, but the episode most relevant to today’s circumstances involves the drug revolution of the 1960’s in which some US citizens increasingly consumed massive amounts of illicit substances, and their government responded by fighting a war against it. As the War on Drugs has played out, it has become increasingly apparent that governments across the hemisphere are losing this war (or unwilling to win it), as the demand has never been higher for illicit substances. Tracking how the drug trade has evolved and why it has been so difficult to stop are necessary considerations to understanding the current conflicts that exist in the US, Mexico, and Central America today.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the foreign actors who most capitalized on the potential of United States’ drug markets were the notorious Colombian cartels. Mexican smugglers, especially those from Sinaloa, had been smuggling contraband into the United States for decades. But when the United States targeted Sinaloa with crop eradication programs, production and distribution shifted to Colombia. The emergence of the Colombian cartels with their cocaine and marijuana signaled a significant development in the global drug trade, and the illicit cocaine trade to the United States exploded as organizations like the Medellin cartel started investing in mass coca production in the Andes during the 1970s and 1980s. As the Colombian cartels consolidated their trafficking operations, people in the United States were developing an insatiable demand for cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. Most people know the basics of Pablo Escobar and the rise of the Medellin cartel as they pumped drugs into the United States through Miami and made untold amounts of money, and many people know about his downfall and the dismantling of the Medellin cartel. The United States and the Colombian government worked in tandem to take down Escobar and his cartel as a part of the War on Drugs, but even as they took down the major cocaine kingpins in Colombia, the trade never ceased. In fact, despite spending billions of dollars trying to fight these cartels in an intensely violent chapter of Colombia, the cocaine trade from the Andes only increased over time. Instead of disappearing, the cocaine trade, as well as the marijuana and the heroin trade, evolved and adapted by moving drugs through the US-Mexico border as opposed to the coast of Florida. People who traded it became savvier and less traceable in their activities, and, ultimately,  the bulk of the drug trade was inherited by Mexican organizations after the fall of the Colombian cartels. This shift in power and profits from Colombians to Mexicans in the late 1980s- early 1990s is critical to understanding the modern drug trade.

Mexican families in Sinaloa have had a long history of trafficking marijuana and opium into the United States, but the formation of the modern cartel structure we see today did not begin until the Colombian kingpins had fallen, making drug profits up-for-grabs. As a result of US interference in the Colombian trade to the coast of Miami, Mexicans had picked up considerable influence in trafficking drugs across the expansive land border. As consumers in the United States continued buying drugs, drug trafficking corridors between the US and Mexico became priceless. Eventually, various cartels would fight for territory in a series of wars that has rocked Mexico since 2006, conflicts responsible for at least 160,000 deaths and tens of thousands of more disappearances.

A critical turn in the conflict was with the 2006 election of Felipe Calderón to the Mexican presidency. He declared that the government would fight the drug cartels, but this decision sparked an escalation in violence that has developed into the wars we’ve seen over the last decade-and-a-half. Despite all the efforts against it, violence continues to erupt around the drug trade, and the entire hemisphere is facing a series of crises related to drugs. Heroin, and now fentanyl, have never been more widely used in the United States. The cocaine trade remains one of the most profitable in the world. Mexican cartels still control the vast majority of the trade, but these cartels have fractured and splintered into more elusive, localized entities in response to conflict amongst each other and the governments of the US and Mexico. There is also some evidence that some of the profits from the trade might be flowing more towards central American gangs, but the relationship and differences between Mexican Cartels and Central American gangs is incredibly complex and ever-evolving.

Traditionally, Central America has played the transportista role in the cocaine trade from the Andes to the United States. When smuggling routes shifted from coastal routes to the US/Mexico land border, drug traffickers needed places and people in Central America to stash and move their drugs North. While the vast majority of profits went to the cartels responsible for transporting the drugs across the US border, the profits from these transportista networks were incentives enough for everyone from poor farmers to wealthy elite families to become involved with trafficking cocaine through Central America. Central American gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18 in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have a limited role in trafficking drugs. These organizations can serve as muscle for drug trafficking operations and can accumulate localized power, but the majority of the drug trade through Central America is run through well-connected, elite families who have operatives throughout the insidiously corrupt governments and are often tied to the former military regimes of these countries. For example, the Honduran president’s brother was arrested in Miami on drug trafficking charges.

As has been historically demonstrated, by the time there enough information to make conclusions about drug-trafficking organizations, their alliances, and their conflicts, the situations will have changed. Cartels and gangs who traffic drugs have embedded themselves in national political and economic structures across the region. Corruption and drug money in the Mexican federal government, police, and military is astoundingly profound. Central American governments are notoriously corrupted by the drug trade. US Customs and Border Patrol has also experienced serious problems with corruption. While there is emerging hope for a profound shift in US drug policy, efforts to pursue alternative approaches to the prohibitionist model remain quagmired. As it stands now, the drug trade and the violence that accompanies everyone and everywhere it encounters remains one of the most serious national security threats to nations across the Western Hemisphere, but it is clear that this problem can not be completely or even partially solved by the construction of a wall when the fact that around 80% of the drugs imported into the United States happens through legal US border checkpoints.

Sources: Gootenberg, Paul. Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Benjamin, T. Smith. “The Rise and Fall of Narcopopulism: Drugs, Politics, and Society in Sinaloa, 1930-1980.” Journal for the Study of Radicalism 7, no. 2 (2013): 125-65. (JSTOR)

Linton, Magnus. “Pablo’s Party: The State Gets Cancer.” Translated by John Eason. In Cocaina: A Book on Those Who Make It, 107-59. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press, 2014.

Further Reading:

  1. For brief estimates of how much the US spends on drugs, see https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_briefs/RB9700/RB9770/RAND_RB9770.pdf
  2. For useful graphs that display trends in global drug use, see https://www.unodc.org/wdr2017/field/WDR_2017_presentation_lauch_version.pdf
  3. For more information about the history and development of the Sinaloa cartel, see https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/sinaloa-cartel-profile/
  4. To read more about Colombia’s cocaine production in the present day, see https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/world/americas/cocaine-colombia.html
  5. For a brief timeline with facts about the drug wars in Mexico, see https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/02/world/americas/mexico-drug-war-fast-facts/index.html.
  6. For a detailed report on Mexican trafficking organizations and the present situation in Mexico’s Drug War, see June Beittels’s Congressional report https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41576.pdf
  7. For more information on Mexico’s Drug war with helpful maps, graphs, and explanations, see the Council on Foreign Relation’s report https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/mexicos-drug-war

Gangs in Honduras

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 2, 2019 by dsmith41

Katya Rudnik

The long-term history of gangs in Honduras can be traced all the way back to the fall of the Spanish Empire in the mid 1800s. The collapse of this empire left the territories of what we now understand to be Central America, to split off into separate regions. This incited gruesome civil wars between plantation owners to try to attain territory and thus harness control (Grillo, 188). This was a foundational moment in the history of Central America which added to historically weak states and lack of social services.

            A century later amidst the Cold War, civil war was once again rampant across Central America. As a result nearly 500,000 refugees were displaced, many of whom fled to the United States in search of safety between the years of 1980 and 1990 (Grillo, 188). These Civil Wars left a legacy of violence which still moves freely across the borders of three Northern Triangle Countries, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. At this moment, right-wing paramilitary groups were being backed by the Reagan administration to fight against a left-wing rebel group called the Farabundo Martí National Liberation (FLMN) (Álvarez, 20). This attempt by the US to fight communism is responsible for a large portion of the displaced people as aforementioned.

           The refugees arriving to the US settled primarily in Los Angeles, California. With a lack of social or state support and with little prospects for work, gangs were formed to bridge this gap of accommodations for a basic quality of life (Douglas, 60). Thus, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and Barrio-18 were formed. Scapegoating individuals within these gangs, the US was able to deport thousands of gang members back to Central America. This is the ultimate irony of President Trump’s claims about Mexico and other Central American countries “not sending us their best,” because the United States Government literally shipped gang members and murderers into Central America.

            Once back in Central America these thousands of gang members grew in numbers and strength. It turns out that what was festering beneath the surface of dangerous criminal behavior in the United States, was able to breathe and grow rapidly within weak states such as Honduras.

Gangs grew in power and size so rapidly and without precedent for four major reasons: First, in countries such as Honduras, statehood was achieved very late making for weak state institutions (Kolb, 14). Second, disenfranchisement of individuals has proven to create a higher susceptibility for gang membership. Without economic prospects and no protection, people have little choice but to become sympathizers or jump into gangs such as MS-13 (Grillo, 193). Third, Honduras had already been the site of cocaine traffickers, being a center for production and distribution of cocaine for the rest of Central America and the world at large (Kolb, 16). Finally, all of these issues operate within a positive feedback loop in a self-perpetuating system. Impunity for crimes allows for crime and violence, leading to corruption, and the cycle continues.

            As for Honduras specifically, this country acted as a launching pad for the rapid growth of the Maras after their attained strength primarily in El Salvador. Maras do not adhere to a state, they create their own pyramid of power and governance, moving across borders and growing within cities where they have boss who can lead in that place (Grillo, 210). Power is able to grow stronger in prisons as prisons are just an extension of the state and have a very weak infrastructure as well (Grillo, 210).

            Each set of driving forces of the strength of these Maras is a result of weak home states. Moreover, there are direct intervention policies the Unites States  has made to exacerbate displacement and violence. The legacy of these gangs is rampant displacement and loss of life due to violence.

Further Reading:

1. Mafia of the Poor: Gang Violence and Extortion in Central America

This article provides an extremely in-depth overview of gangs in Central America. First the article provides an executive summary and then outlines in much detail, recommendations to various actors who share responsibility in these issues. It then provides a very thorough but comprehensive history of gangs in Central America.

2. Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle

This article gives an overview of violence in the Northern Triangle: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

3. Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

This article is useful in providing an overview of gangs in Honduras. It outlines major details about the two most prominent gangs in Honduras, Barrio-18 and MS-13.

4. In Gang-Ridden Honduras, Growing Old is a Privilege, Not a Right

Young people are caught up in a cycle of violence, corruption and poverty in Honduras. National Geographic explains, in this article, that growing old is not a right for the youth, namely young boys, in this country but a privilege. The main value in this article is the breathtaking a devastating photo journalism that captures the comradery but also the sorrow of the young boys growing up amidst this violence, with pressures to conform, as they try to stay alive.

5. Bloody Honduras

This article outlines the fear people face in Honduras and why they seek refuge by traveling north to the United States. This article is particularly enlightening because it interviews a member of Barrio-18, MS-13’s rival, which in general is covered less by news outlets and academic journals alike. This is most likely because MS-13 has a stronger presence and more bloodshed behind its name than Barrio.

6. Why is Honduras so Violent? Impunity, Gangs, Drugs, Poverty, and Corruption

This article does a really nice job outlining the self-perpetuating cycle that drives violence and crime in Honduras. This cycle begins with a weak justice system and impunity, thus resulting in crime and violence, leading to corruption, which allows for weak justice system and impunity to continue in a positive feedback loop.

7. Brief History of Honduras

This article is useful because it provides an overview of Honduran history. Of course we know that in the disciplines of history and social science, phenomena do not just occur in isolation. The history of a place, as far back as you can go, has a hand in what came of its present and what will come of its future. This article does a nice job briefly describing major events in Honduras as far back as 12,000 BC to track how the violence came to be in Honduras. 

8. Why is Honduras so violent?

This article is useful in describing the relationship that gangs have with global drug trade and how impunity in that realm went on to affect impunity in the realm of gang crimes as well.

Bibliography

Álvarez, Alberto Martín. “From Revolutionary War to Democratic Revolution “. Berghof Conflict Research  (2010): 1-37.

Cruz, José Miguel. “Criminal Violence and Democratization in Central America: The Survival of the State.” Latin American Politics and Society 53, no. 4 (2011): 1-33.

Grillo, Ioan. Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields and the New Politics of Latin America.  New York, New York Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, (2016), 188.

Farah, Douglas. “Central American Gangs: Challenging Nature and New Partners.” Journal of International Affairs 66, no. 1 (2012): 53-67.

Farah, Douglas. “The Evolution of Ms 13 in El Salvador and Honduras.” Institute for National Strategic Security, National Defense University 7, no. 1 (2017): 58-73.

Kolb, Ana-Constantina. “Outgunned: The Honduran Gight against Transnational Cocaine Traffickers “. Journal of International Affairs 66, no. 1 (2012): 213-23.

Rivera, Lirio del Carmen Gutiérrez. “Security Politics from a Spatial Perspective: The Case of Honduras “. Iberoamericana 41 (2001): 143-55.

Verini, James. “Prisoners Rule: Welcome to the Deadliest City in the Deadliest Country in the World.” Foreign Policy 196: 36-40.

Wolf, Sonja. “Mara Salvatrucha: The Most Dangerous Street Gangs in the Americas?”. Latin American Politics and Society 54, no. 1 (2012): 65-99.

Mara Salvatrucha – Overview

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 2, 2019 by dsmith41

Leslie Rivers

Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, started off as a small group of Salvadoran immigrants that were Black Sabbath metal heads in the early 1970s and early 1980s. They were just a few kids hanging out on the street corner looking to escape an imminent threat of becoming a child soldier if they continued to live in their home country of El Salvador (Grillo, 200). Salvadorians began to flee to the United States in the 1970s to escape from the debilitating and incomprehensibly violent civil war due to the opposition of the government due to supposed “fraudulent elections, police fir[ing] on protests, and death squads hunt[ing] dissidents” which led to an outright war in the 1980s (Grillo 194). During this time period, you start to see the formation of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a leftist guerilla group still present in Central America today that like the national army, recruited child soldiers in an attempt to combat the army’s “scorched earth” campaign (Grillo, 196). This initial massive flow outward from Central America of natives of El Salvador resulted in many young kids being thrown into downtown Los Angeles where previously-established gangs were a threat of violence to them. This resulted in Salvadorans banding together and forming the Maras. The name was taken from a Charles Heston movie, The Naked Jungle. In El Salvador it was translated to “When the Ants Roar”. The Maras took this and named themselves after ants because they protected one another much like ants do (Grillo, 200). The addition of Salvatrucha in Mara Salvatrucha 13 was due to the Maras being targets for other gangs due to them being a small and not well-defined group that looked like hippies, a vast difference to the other gangs that dressed in the cholo style of wife beaters and shaved heads (Grillo, 200). They added “Salvatrucha”, which is speculated to mean street smarts. The addition of the “-13” was when the Maras merged with a gang called the Mexican Mafia in prisons to gain protection from other gangs of inmates. The Mexican Mafia uses the number thirteen (M is the 13th letter in the alphabet) to symbolize their gang (Grillo, 201).

           The rise in gang violence in Los Angeles was largely due to the proliferation of gangs throughout the region. Following the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, police determined most of the looting and violence stemmed from the gangs, including MS-13 (Arana, 2005). This resulted in California charging Latino gang members as adults with felonies while they were minors. Following in 1996, a federal immigration law stated that any non-citizen that was sentenced to over a year in prison would be sent back to their country of origin to finish their prison sentences (Farah, 2012). These young men that had gang affiliations were shipped back to their home country of El Salvador that had very little political power to keep crime at a minimum due to the recent civil wars. This meant that effectively the gangs could go unchecked and establish local branches of the gang but maintain their American connections (Demombynes, 2011).

Eventually, with little to control them in terms of either police force or political laws, gangs like MS-13 flourished in places like Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. This led to unchecked gang violence and deaths that lead to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to have some of the highest murder rates worldwide (Grillo, 187-188). MS-13 initially gained its primary source of income from extortion through local cliques and was not considered sophisticated enough to be as organized like the drug cartels that operate out of Mexico and South America (Wolf, 2012). Therefore, prior to 2000 most cartels were the ones producing the drugs and relied on gangs like MS-13 to transport and sell drugs like cocaine and marijuana that they produced en masse in Central and South America. Post-1990 the increase of drug trafficking of cocaine through Central America went from 30% to 90%, as gangs like MS-13 moved from extortion to cocaine trafficking and human smuggling (Scott and Marshall, 1998).

Further Information

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocBLgAaud_4
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvRUc59PVS4
  3. https://www.insightcrime.org/el-salvador-organized-crime-news/mara-salvatrucha-ms-13-profile/
  4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths/five-myths-about-ms-13/2018/06/29/5860f1c4-7b17-11e8-93cc-6d3beccdd7a3_story.html?utm_term=.8cc7f35db5a4

Bibliography:

Arana, A. (2005, June 07). How the Street Gangs Took Central America. Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/cfr/international/20050501faessay84310_arana.html?_r=1

Demombynes, G. (2011, May 30). Drug trafficking and violence in Central America and beyond. Retrieved December 8, 2018, from http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/761351468235453648/Drug-trafficking-and-violence-in-Central-America-and-beyond

Farah, D. (2012, October 01). Central American Gangs: Changing Nature and New Partners. Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/24388251?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Grillo, I. (2016). Gangster Warlords: Drug dollars, killing fields, and the new politics of Latin America. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

Scott, P. D., & Marshall, J. (2005). Cocaine politics: Drugs, armies, and the CIA in Central America. Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press.

Wolf, S. (2012, April 01). Mara Salvatrucha: The Most Dangerous Street Gang in the Americas? Retrieved December 8, 2018, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/41485342?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Gangs in Central America

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 2, 2019 by dsmith41

Isabelle Schecter

Central American gangs are primarily associated with the “Northern Triangle” countries: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. In the United States, the most prominent gangs associated with these countries are the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha. The 18th Street gang has roots going back to a few years after WWII. goes by various names such as Barrio 18, Calle 18, or M18 (Grillo 202, Farah 54). The number 18 derives from their place of origin near the 18th street area of Los Angeles. This faction of a traditionally Mexican street gang let non-Mexicans join, so many Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans took this opportunity. Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 is thought to have began in the late seventies/early eighties among Salvadorans in L.A. (Grillo 198, 200).

           The 18th Street Gang and MS-13 both originated in the U.S. among Latin American immigrants but shifted to Central America beginning in the early 1990s. According to historians Scott and Marshall, the U.S. government popularized the rhetoric of “narcoterrorism” referring broadly to illicit and dangerous acts associated with Latin American transnational criminal organizations. This included but was not limited to: drug trafficking, extortion, resistance to law enforcement, and unmitigated violence (Scott and Marshall 23). By popularizing prejudice, the government created a racially divided environment in the U.S., leading various non-White ethnic groups to search for solidarity and community by forming groups with one another (Grillo 197-198). This is not to say that being non-White or searching for this type of solidarity is a determining factor in joining a gang, however it did play a role in the Central American context. Racist rhetoric stalled the integration of non-White migrants into U.S. society, thus leaving foreign ethnic groups more vulnerable to isolation and, in this case, gangs. Gang initiators lure youths in by providing food, shelter, and a network to vulnerable and ostracized members of society (Grillo 232).

           After the 1992 L.A. riots, prosecutors charged young Latino gang members as adults though they were minors. Thus, hundreds were sent to prison on felony charges. In 1996, a new immigration law was passed which mandated that noncitizens serving felony sentences longer than a year were to be deported to their countries of origin. These deportations repatriated tens of thousands of young Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran gang members. Many had lived in the U.S. for the majority of their lifetime and had little to no connections in their countries of origin. These repatriates, whether gang members or not, often had trouble getting a job, and in some cases did not speak the language. Joining a gang provided a social framework, an income (through means such as drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping), as well as protection. At the time, Central America was recovering from years of warfare, so the police forces were underdeveloped and the judiciary systems were dysfunctional. These factors allowed for a further expansion of the 18th Street and MS-13 gangs, particularly in rural areas where the central government was weak (Farah 55-56).

           After the gangs gained traction in Central America, violence tremendously increased. This violence was and currently remains a key reason why people flee to the U.S. (Grillo 203). Border policy is strict, so many Central Americans are sent back to their countries when trying to escape gangs and succumb to the typical pressures of joining. As a result, gangs grow, crime increases, death tolls rise, and more migrants try to flee. The LA Times recently reported that many school districts are reluctant to allow these children in, fearing they are already connected with gangs. This leaves them home alone, lacking a network, and thus even more likely to turn to a gang for social support (Demick). The Mara Salvatrucha requires immigrants to report to the local gang affiliate in the U.S. after they arrive. Many do not have immigration papers, thus are scared to go to the police and have a hard time finding a source of income (Grillo 203, 230).

Suggestions for further reading:

Ioan Grillo, Gangster Warlords (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).

Gerardo Lopez, “I was an MS-13 gang member. Here’s how I got out.” TedXMileHigh, accessed 9 Dec 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qkSMkiGWdg

Hannah Dreier, “The Runaways,” This American Life, Podcast, published 21 September 2018, https://www.thisamericanlife.org/657/the-runaways

Bibliography

Demick, Barbara. “Trump heads to Long Island, using brutal MS-13 murders to justify deportations,” Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-ms13-trump-20170727-story.html

Farah, Douglas. “Central American Gangs: Changing Nature and New Partners,” Journal of International Affairs 66, no. 1: 53-67.

Grillo, Ioan. Gangster Warlords (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).

Scott, Peter Dale and Marshall, Jonathan. “The CIA and Right-Wing Narcoterrorism in Latin America,” in Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America (Berkely: University of California Press, 1998), 53-67.

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