Archive for Central American Gangs

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

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

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.

Barrio-18 Overview

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

Sarah Rousse

            Barrio 18, otherwise known as 18th Street Gang or M-18, is a street gang originating in Los Angeles, gaining prominence in the 1980s and 90s. While the gang began with only Mexican immigrants, they soon started to recruit immigrants from various Latin American countries (Insight Crime). The immigrants had trouble adjusting in America and found surrogate family in the gang, a vital recruitment tactic, as well as safety, drugs and women (Verini 41). The violence and crimes committed by gang members forced a crackdown on gang activity in California in the 1990s.

            In 1996, the state of California increased the number of deportable crimes exponentially. The crimes could be as small as drunk driving or petty theft (Arana 100). Many of the deportees had spent most or all of their life in America and were not welcomed into the communities in their home countries. The struggle to fit in and adjust once deported drove most to continue with they knew, and gangs grew in Central America (The Wire). The result of the deportations was understandably a disaster. The gangs took over weak countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. As soon as they had established their territory, they collected “war taxes” from local officials and businesses (Verini 39). In order to create funding for the gang, they soon turned to robbery, extortion and drug trafficking (Arana 105). Central America quickly became one of the most dangerous places to live in the world.

            Barrio 18 is one of two dominant gangs in Central America. The other, and the gang’s bitter rival, is Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. The rivalry between the two has proven extremely dangerous for innocent civilians as well as the members themselves. In 2012, Honduras became the murder capital of the world because of the feud (Verini 36). The violence became so unavoidable that the government attempted a ceasefire the same year between Barrio 18 and MS-13 in exchange for relaxed prison conditions (Insight Crime). The two agreed and the murder rate immediately plummeted in the country. However, this did not last as the truce was broken in 2014 and violence spread everywhere again.

            In 2002, Honduras’ president, Ricardo Maduro, implemented “Mano Dura” or Iron Fist policies in regard to the gangs. Mano Dura was a zero-tolerance policy that used mass detentions and extrajudicial killings to deter gang activity (The Wire). A member could receive a sentence of 12 years in prison for mere association, although officials did not need much evidence to convict (Arana 102). Often police officers will check the suspects skin for the signature tattoos of Barrio 18’s members (Discovery). Prisons soon swelled past their limits, which only backfired for the government. The gang was forced into closer corners, allowing them to reorganize (Insight Crime). Prisons had to be separated into sections, Barrio 18 members, MS-13, and unaffiliated in order to keep them from each other’s throats.

            The violence that came with Barrio 18’s deportation into Central America forced many innocent citizens to flee their home country in search of refuge in America. The gang capitalized on this desperation and began their human smuggling business (Arana 104). It is made clear to the refugees that they can pay the smugglers and they will bring them into the United States or they can not pay, and they will not make it alive. The gang is so far spread throughout Central America and the United States that they have no issue finding drug or human smuggling routes (Arana 105). Many blame the U.S. for the violence Latin America now faces at the hands of these gangs. The Wire claims that drugs consumed in America makes cause for trafficking and loose gun laws supply the violence. The mass deportations sent members to places they were not welcome or did not fit in, where banding together with their gangs gave them a sense of belonging.   

Arana, Ana. “How the Street Gangs Took Central America.” Foreign Affairs 84, no. 3 (2005): 98-110. doi:10.2307/20034353.

This source focuses on both MS-13 and Barrio 18 in the 1990s in America and their effect in Central America in the early 2000s. Arana also concentrates on the violence brought about by the gangs but because the source was written in 2005, does not cover recent violence statistics or policies made to deter gang activity.

VERINI, JAMES. “DISPATCH: Prisoners Rule: Welcome to the Deadliest City in the Deadliest Country in the World.” Foreign Policy, no. 196 (2012): 36-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41726704.

            In this source, Verini reports on a prison in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. At the time, Honduras was the murder capital of the world, and Verini interviews gang members from both Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. The piece incorporates the personal stories of members with the history of how the gangs become so prominent in Honduras.

“Barrio 18.” InSight Crime. February 13, 2018. Accessed December 06, 2018. https://www.insightcrime.org/el-salvador-organized-crime-news/barrio-18-profile-2/.

            This source is good for a basic overview of Barrio 18. Insight Crime gives a history of the gang starting with their emergence in Los Angeles to their status now in 2018. It also focuses on the gang’s effect on Central American Violence.

“What Lies Behind Central America’s Gang Violence.” The Wire. Accessed December 06, 2018. https://thewire.in/world/what-lies-behind-central-americas-gang-violence.

UK, Discovery. “Prison Leader Sharky – 18th Street Gang – Inside the Gangsters’ Code.” YouTube. February 26, 2013. Accessed December 06, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tI9zo9j40Q.

Documentary, Gang. “Gang Documentary – 18th Street Gang.” YouTube. December 07, 2016. Accessed December 06, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43BJ9eSDJ4s.

Gangs in El Salvador

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

Margaux Miller

Central to the formation of gangs like Barrio 18 (or ‘Dieciocho’) and Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13) is the history of civil war in Central American countries. In the late 20th century, a series of Civil wars erupted across the smattering of small countries in Central America. These wars were largely fought in resistance to layers of social, economic, and political inequality, a legacy of the region’s long relationship with colonialism (Grillo, 188). The conflicts proved to be some of the fiercest and bloodiest ever in the Americas, entailing full scale aerial bombardment, scorched earth tactics, and the laying of mass graves. In El Salvador, the fighting was between the leftist guerilla army Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMNL) and the U.S.-trained and -financed dictatorship, and left nearly 70,000 people dead, including many innocent civilians (Grillo, 196).

The rampant violence and political instability of the years leading up to and during the Civil War – which last from 1980 until 1992 – caused massive swells of immigrants to flee El Salvador to the United States (Grillo, 196). Most of the migrants were forced to live clandestine lives, due to the limited nature of Reagan-era asylum policy that denied most claims to asylum-seekers (Wolf, 71). Migrant experience was also one of marginalization: a majority of migrants lacked access to education or employment, consistent support networks, and access to state services and validation. Conditions of marginalization produced ethnically-specific Salvadoran gangs in Los Angeles, (including Barrio 18 and MS-13), because gang formation offered secure social identities that mainstream society denied to gang members (Wolf, 70). Notably, the formation of gangs by marginalized, ethnic minorities is not a new phenomenon in the U.S.: gangs date back to the early 1800’s (Ibid).

It was in the late 1980’s that tension and violence between Salvadoran gangs in L.A. started to grow particularly intense. The gangs had gone through processes of change: they had formed connections to other Latino mafias through prison sentences; they had swelled their ranks with new recruits; and they had actively hardened their street identities (Grillo, 200-201). L.A. police forces and the U.S. government were desperate to rid the city of seemingly insatiable, violent gang members. Rather than address the systemic issues that produced gang culture in U.S. cities, authorities began to repatriate gang members to their home nations. U.S. authorities were delighted when the Salvadoran government and the FMLN brokered a peace deal in Mexico in 1993: rather than repatriate Salvadorans to war-torn and violent country, they could return them to their homeland under the guise that the young men would be contributors in building the new democratic state (Grillo, 203). Immigration reform in 1996 stipulated that non-citizens who were doing more than a year in prison and/or committed a minor offense could be repatriated, allowing further repatriation. In dealing with “the immigrant problem”, the U.S. authorities send thousands of Americanized Salvadorans with violent street experience to a country still struggling to grasp stability, where the deportees – in coping with their deportation and marginalization – reproduced gang culture within a new and fragile setting. (Douglas, 56).

Salvadoran gangs have since grown and mutated. One of the central forces behind this has been the implementation of mano dura – or hard hand – policy. The policies put hundreds behind bars, but were still largely ineffective at eradicating gangs. the policies prompted MS-13 and Dieciocho (18) to toughen and increase the risk of their entry requirements, increase their militarization and lethality, diversify their leadership hierarchies, and become more covert in communication and style, in order to reduce infiltration and amplify control. The policies also had the “cockroach effect”: fearing arrest, gang affiliates dispersed to nearby neighboring countries, serving to actually spread gang influence. Murder rates rose due to increasingly fierce competition over territory under governmental fire (Farah, 57-9).

Popular perception of gang activity is often wrapped up with that of drug trafficking organizations, and it can be very difficult to piece apart the two entities. Notably, a relationship between the two does exist. Gang influence is so expansive that drug traffickers – who largely exist in criminal organizations institutionally distinct from gangs – were forced to incorporate gang members into the trafficking process. The geographic positioning of Central America also exposes it to drug trafficking: around 90% of cocaine designated for U.S. markets flows through Central America, deeming it an important “transnational shipment route.,” (Farah, 53, 57). In the past decade, gangs have shifted from being primarily protectors of shipments, to holding larger and riskier roles, which has increased their economic input and allowed for accumulation of larger weapons. It should be noted, however, that gangs and cartels are very different in their capacity for crime, even if some of their criminal activities overlap. Trafficking organizations tend to execute longer-term, advanced strategic violence in the defense of criminal enterprise, while street gangs typically use short term, tactical violence (in crimes such as extortion and kidnapping) that lacks logistical sophistication. In short, street gangs tend to be weaker in organization than myth makes them out to be (Wolf, 82-84).

In 2013, a covert truce was brokered by the Salvadoran federal security minister David Munguía Payés in attempts to quell rampant violence between ranking members of Barrio 18 and MS-13. The 2013 truce brokering did contribute to lowering murder rates: officials released ranking gang members who supported demilitarization to lower security prisons, where they were able to spread the message to put down arms in “violence free zones,” (Grillo, 223). Within days the truce was uncovered by independent journalists and released to the public. Just a year after it began, the truce ended due to administrative shifts and deep criticism of the government’s willingness to work with gangsters. Sinces its end, violence has picked back up (Grillo, 224). The truce tactic is especially interesting to think about in relation to mano dura policy, and this comparison begs the question of what successful gang suppression truly could look like.

Further Suggested Reading

“El Salvador Is Trying to Stop Gang Violence. But the Trump Administration Keeps Pushing         Failed “Iron First” Policing,” by Danielle Mackey & Cora Currier (October 2, 2018) https://theintercept.com/2018/10/02/el-salvador-gang-violence-prevention/

            This article, published by a trustworthy source, provides anecdotal evidence about the nature an individual’s gang involvement, an interesting perspective on economic rehabilitation of former gang members, and a look into the tenuous politics of United States-Latin American foreign policy.

“Five myths about MS-13,” by José Miguel Cruz (June 29, 2018)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths/five-myths-about-ms-13/2018/06/29/5860f1c4-7b17-11e8-93cc-6d3beccdd7a3_story.html?utm_term=.7fca84218475

            This piece by the Washington Post is a straight forward, comprehensible attack on popular myths about MS-13. It debunks narratives that have been used and abused in national rhetoric about the “threats” gangs pose to national security, and fills in the vacuum with actual facts.

“Time for a US Apology to El Salvador,” by Raymond Bonner (April 15, 2016)

https://www.thenation.com/article/time-for-a-us-apology-to-el-salvador/

            This article discusses the involvement of the United States in increasing the violence of El Salvador’s Civil War (1980 – 1992). The Salvadoran Civil War was the context that prompted thousands of Salvadorans to flee their homes. The end of the war and the subsequent establishment of democracy in El Salvador acted a justification, despite its fragility, for the United States in repatriating large numbers of Salvadorans convicted of gang violence and other crime.

Central American Gangs and Women

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

Sasha Hull

Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, also known as “the Northern Triangle,” could not offer a more perfect environment for gangs and drug violence. The region’s geography, which serves as a land bridge “between the world’s largest cocaine producers in Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru and the world’s largest market in the United States,” coupled with its economic instability and weak state power has allowed gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha 13 and Barrio 18 to thrive and promote drug-related violence in the Northern triangle (Farah 53).

Central American women are in every way at the mercy of the physically and psychologically abusive orders and tendencies of gang members. Gender violence in this region has been historically justified; women hold a subordinate status to men in these societies, and violence towards women has little consequence or punishment, thus allowing it to become both perpetuated and tolerated (Stephen 46). In recent years, this violence towards women has been exacerbated due to the escalating presence of gangs in the region. While some of this gender violence stems from drug-related gang activity, much of it is normalized and has been engrained into the daily lives of gang members.

Before examining this violence and its many forms, we must first understand the history of the relationship between women, gang abuse, and violence. War and economic instability in the 1980’s and 90’s caused many individuals, specifically males, to emigrate in order to find better jobs to support their families. This left single mothers and young girls vulnerable to predatory gang members, who oftentimes fled to other men in search of protection, many of whom became abusive. Violence, abuse and intimidation from gangs towards women takes shape in many forms, and in both private and public spheres, making it impossible to escape.

Women who do join gangs often do so in hopes of escaping domestic abuse, only to find themselves abused physically and emotionally by their fellow gang members. Female former gang members report that their initiation processes involved rape by each member of the gang, sexual favors, and even orders to kill or rob members of their communities (Lacey). Physical consequences involve sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy, and psychological damage is incalculable.

Although the majority of women are not members of gangs, they usually become involved by extension of a male family member, or most commonly, a gang member who is pursuing them. There are many accounts of gang members sending death threats or killing the family members of girls who refused to go out with them (Grillo 193). Gang members also harass young women in public which creates a constant “state of insecurity and unease among women” and engrains in them a deep-seated fear of sexual violence (Winton 175).

Single mothers who have left their home due to domestic abuse, or women whose husbands have fled or been killed by gangs are subject to absurdly high extortion fees, ‘la renta,’ and threatened with violence or death if they do not comply with the gangs (Schmidt and Buechler 147). These demands cause much anxiety among mothers who are already financially insecure and trying to support their children. Consequently, many Central American women are forced to either turn to prostitution and sex trafficking to make ends meet, or stay in abusive relationships, relying on their partners for financial stability and protection from gangs (Schmidt and Buechler 147). Violence by gangs, combined with domestic abuse in the home and sharp increases in femicides in the Northern Triangle have led many women to flee. This journey can be extremely dangerous and is often traumatizing. Reports reveal that “80% of women and girls crossing into the US by way of Mexico are raped during their journey,” and many are preyed upon, manipulated, or killed (Lacey).

Abuse, intimidation, and violence—both physical and psychological—stem from deeply engrained ideas about gender roles, machismo, and gang membership. These historically misogynistic values have wreaked havoc on Central American women for decades, and have intensified in recent years due to increased gang activity in the region (Winton 175). Violence at this level is not new; women in the Northern Triangle have suffered from multiple layers and generations of trauma, with gangs only exacerbating the existing problems.

Further Reading:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/12/central-america-migrants-rape_n_5806972.html

https://www.panoramas.pitt.edu/news-and-politics/violence-against-women-central-american-street-gangs-how-trump’s-immigration

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

Works Cited (MLA)

Farah, Douglas. “CENTRAL AMERICAN GANGS: CHANGING NATURE AND NEW PARTNERS.” Journal of International Affairs, vol. 66, no. 1, 2012, pp. 53–67. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24388251.

Grillo, Ioan. Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America. Bloomsbury Press, 2017.

Lacey, Marc. “Abuse Trails Central American Girls into Gangs.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2001, www.nytimes.com/2008/04/11/world/americas/11guatemala.html.

Schmidt, Leigh Anne, and Stephanie Buechler. ‘“I Risk Everything Because I Have Already Lost Everything’: Central American Female Migrants Speak Out on the Migrant Trail in Oaxaca, Mexico.” Journal of Latin American Geography, vol. 16, no. 1, Apr. 2017, pp. 139-164., doi: 10.1353/lag.2017.0012.

Stephen, Lynn. “Violencia Transfronteriza de Género y Mujeres Indígenas Refugiadas de Guatemala.” Revista CIDOB d’Afers Internacionales, no. 117, Dec 2017, pp. 29-50. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.24241/rcai.2017.117.3.29.

Winton, Ailsa. “Youth, Gangs and Violence: Analysing the Social and Spatial Mobility of Young People in Guatemala City.” Childrens Geographies, vol. 3, no. 2, Jan. 2005, pp. 167-184., doi: 10.1080/14733280500161537.

Central American Gangs and Drug Trafficking

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

Monique Martin

The history of Central American gangs and drug trafficking is a complex one filled with murder and extortion. Often people believe that gangs and cartels are the same, but they are different. Gang members are given inferior jobs and serve as hired muscle for drug cartels. Due to their drug trade involvement being at lower risk, and their lack of ownership of drugs, they do not profit in the same way as cartels. Cartels mainly focus on drugs and in terms of economics gangs are far below them. Gangs mostly earn money through extortion and human trafficking. Moreover, gangs became powerful in Central America through the influence of the United States.

One of the most known Central American gang includes Mara Salvatrucha also referred to as MS-13. They are most known for their crude acts of violence all over Central America and have become one of the scapegoats for the United States to justify their resistants’ in allowing people from Central America into the U.S. MS-13 was founded in the 1980s in Los Angeles, California. By 2004 MS-13 had spread to about “42 states and Central America” (Wolf, 66). Gangs such as MS-13 are usually created as, “[F]irst a group of friends, an alternate “family,” a group for mutual protection” (Grillo, 198). When Hispanic people from El Salvador moved to Los Angeles they went in search of jobs and better lives. However, because of xenophobia and racism, they were isolated in society by the majority forcing them to find an alternative way to gain an income. Politicians have used these gangs to push narratives of narcoterrorism and, “[T]o capitalize on popular fear of terrorists and drug traffickers in order to mobilize support for foreign interventions against leftist regimes” (Scott & Marshall, 23). For years this specific gang has been used against Hispanics to help justify political agendas that garner support in baring Hispanics from immigrating to the U.S.

Young Hispanic males have been profiled as the aggressors of gang violence, but they are also the overwhelming victims of gang violence. People join gangs for protection from rival gangs, and protection from the gang presiding in their neighborhood. Moreover, males are “recruited at a young age including elementary school-aged children” (Farah, 63). Also, gangs are more appealing to impoverished young men. This does not mean a person being impoverished will inevitably join a gang. However, poverty can make gangs appear more appealing. On the other hand, some young men join gangs willingly partly because they have grown up around gang members, so these gang members are their only example of how men behave.  The violence these gang members can exude has been enabled through the access to guns legally purchased in the U.S and smuggled into Central America. Therefore, many politicians in Central America have advocated for the U.S to create stricter gun laws.

Women have also been victims of gang violence predominantly through human trafficking and domestic violence. Many women have been forced to marry gang members who supersede them in age. Women have also suffered sexual abuse by gang members. If a person reports an incident to the authorities, they would be murdered because the police often work with the gangs (Osten, Oct. 29, 2018). Just like men, women are forced into tough situations by gangs to survive.

All around most people who are not a part of gang life are subjected to extortion and if they refuse to pay they will be murdered. The conditions in Central America has caused people to desperately want to flee the country. “Due to the historically large amount of people seeking to leave… MS-13 quickly moved into the human smuggling business…”(Farah, 57). Gangs usually charge people hundreds of dollars to help them cross the border, which many people from poor economic backgrounds cannot afford. Therefore, people have recently traveled in a large caravan to cross the U.S border because when they travel in groups the gangs are less likely to attack them. Moreover, when they travel in groups it is free, so they do not have to pay gang members to help them cross the border. Overall, extortion and gang violence are prime contributors to why many people desperately want to leave Central America.

Bibliography

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

Grillo, I. (2017). Gangster warlords: Drug dollars, killing fields, and the new politics of Latin America. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

Scott, Peter Dale and Jonathan Marshall, Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 23-50 

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

External Sources

  • Children on the Run in Central America
    • This short documentary pertains to children of Central America and their experience growing up in Central America. It also discusses their journey leaving Central America and their experience in America.
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