Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Mara Salvatrucha: The Most Dangerous Street Gang in the Americas?

  • Sonja Wolf
Abstract

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), founded in 1980s Los Angeles by Salvadoran immigrant youth, is today one of the largest street gangs in North and Central America. In recent years the group has acquired a reputation for extreme brutality and has ostensibly mutated into a fast-expanding, transnational organized crime network with possible ties to international terrorists. Drawing on key concepts in gang research and multiple methodological tools, this article seeks to sharpen understanding of MS-13’s structure and activities. While the group is active in many countries, it is transnational only in a symbolic manner, not in its configuration or span of authority. Impelled largely by Central American gang-suppression policies, MS-13 has evolved from a traditional street gang into a group with organized crime characteristics, but it remains a social phenomenon rooted in urban marginality. Ultimately, a more nuanced picture of Mara Salvatrucha can inform the search for more effective gang policies.

Copyright
References
Hide All
Adams, Jennifer and Pizarro, Jesenia. 2009. Ms-13: a Gang Profile. Journal of Gang Research 16, 4: 111.
Aguilar, Jeannette. 2006. Pandillas juveniles transnacionales en Centroamérica, México y Estados Unidos: diagnóstico de El Salvador. San Salvador : IUDOP.
Aguilar, Jeannette. 2007. Los resultados contraproducentes de las políticas antipandillas. ECA 708: 877–90.
Aguilar, Jeannette and Carranza, Marlon. 2008. Las maras y pandillas como actores ilegales de la región. Report prepared for the Informe Estado de la región en desarrollo humano sostenible 2008. San Salvador : IUDOP.
Amaya, Edgardo. 2010. Adviser, Ministry of Justice and Public Security. Author interview. San Salvador, June 16.
Arana, Ana. 2005. How the Street Gangs Took Central America. Foreign Affairs 84, 3: 98110.
Barnes, Nielan. 2006. Transnational Youth Gangs in Central America, Mexico, and the United States. Working paper. Mexico City : ITAM.
BBC News. 2007. Padilla Guilty in U.S. Terror Trial. August 16. http://news.bbc.co.uk.
Boraz, Steven and Bruneau, Thomas. 2006. Are the Maras Overwhelming Governments in Central America? Military Review (Winter): 3640.
Boston Globe . 2004. Street Gangs Stake Turf in Cyberspace. July 18 (Lexis Nexis).
Boston Globe . 2006. Gangs Roil Central America. April 17 (Lexis Nexis).
Brevé, Federico. 2007. The Maras. Military Review (Summer): 8895.
Bruneau, Thomas. 2005. The Maras and National Security in Central America. Strategic Insights 4: 112.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). 2009. Cdcr Gang Overview. Presentation at the Fifth Anti-Gang Convention, National Civilian Police of El Salvador, Sonsonate, April 28–30.
Chabat, Jorge. 2008. Franchises for Crime. Working Paper. Mexico City : CIDE.
CoLatino . 2009. Christian Poveda estaba preocupado por el cada vez mayor índice de violencia. September 7. http://www.diariocolatino.com.
Corsetti, Jeffrey. 2006. Marked for Death: the Maras of Central America and Those Who Flee Their Wrath. Georgetown Immigration Law Journal 20, 3: 407–36.
Cotto, Augusto. 2010. Subdirector of Investigations, Pnc. Author interview. San Salvador, June 18.
Covey, Herbert. 2003. Street Gangs Throughout the World. Springfield : C. Thomas.
Cruz, Miguel. 2007. El barrio transnacional. In Redes transnacionales en la cuenca de los huracanes, ed. Pisani, Francis, Saltalamacchia, Natalia, Tickner, Arlene and Barnes, Nielan. Mexico City : ITAM/Porrúa. 357–82.
Cruz, Miguel and Santacruz, María. 2005. La victimización y la percepción de seguridad en El Salvador en 2004. San Salvador : MINGOB/PNUD.
Decker, Scott, Bynum, Tim and Weisel, Deborah. 1998. A Tale of Two Cities: Gangs as Organized Crime Groups. Justice Quarterly 15, 3: 395425.
Delaney, Tim. 2006. American Street Gangs. Upper Saddle River : Pearson.
Demoscopía, . 2007. Maras y pandillas, comunidad y policía en Centroamérica. San José : Demoscopía.
El Diario de Hoy (San Salvador). 2005. Revive presunto vínculo Al Qaeda-Ms. February 15. http://www.elsalvador.com.
Dunn, William. 2007. The Gangs of Los Angeles. Lincoln : iUniverse.
The Economist . 2006. Out of the Underworld. January 7 (Lexis Nexis).
Etter, Gregg. 2010. Mara Salvatrucha 13. Journal of Gang Research 17, 2: 117.
Faux, Frédéric. 2006. Les maras, gangs d'enfants. Paris : Autrement Frontières.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 2008. The Ms-13 Threat. January 14. http://www.fbi.gov.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). n.d. Seeking Information: Adnan El Shukrijumah. http://www.fbi.gov.
Fernández, Jorge and Ronquillo, Víctor. 2006. De los maras a los zetas. Mexico City : Random House/Mondadori.
Fogelbach, Juan. 2005. Mara Salvatrucha (Ms-13) and Ley Anti Mara. San Diego International Law Journal 7: 223–58.
Franco, Celinda. 2008. The MS-13 and 18th Street Gangs. Washington, DC : CRS.
Franzese, Robert, Covey, Herbert and Menard, Scott, eds. 2006. Youth Gangs. 3rd ed. Springfield : C. Thomas.
Fuchs, Alexandre (dir.). 2007. Hijos de la guerra. DVD. UK/USA : Directional Studios/Fly Films.
Grascia, Andrew. 2004. Gang Violence: Mara Salvatrucha: “Forever Salvador.” Journal of Gang Research 11, 2: 2936.
Greene, Judith and Pranis, Kevin. 2007. Gang Wars. Report. Washington, DC : JPI. http://www.justicepolicy.org/uploads/justicepolicy/documents/07-07_rep_gangwars_gc-ps-ac-jj.pdf.
Gutiérrez, Lirio. 2008. Enclaves y territorios. Ph.D. diss., Freie Universität Berlin.
Hagedorn, John. 2008. Making Sense of Central America Maras. Air & Space Power Journal (Summer), Spanish ed. http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/apjinternational/apj-s/2008/2tri08/hagedorneng.htm.
Hume, Mo. 2007. “(Young) Men with Big Guns”: Reflexive Encounters with Violence and Youth in El Salvador. Bulletin of Latin American Research 26, 4: 480–96.
Hume, Mo. 2009. The Politics of Violence. Oxford : Blackwell.
Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública (IUDOP). 2003. Las preferencias políticas en octubre de 2003. ECA 660: 1071–78.
Johnson, Mary. 2006. National Policies and the Rise of Transnational Gangs. Washington, DC : MPI. http://www.migrationinformation.org.
Jütersonke, Oliver, Muggah, Robert and Rodgers, Dennis. 2009. Gangs, Urban Violence, and Security Interventions in Central America. Security Dialogue 40: 373–97.
Katz, Charles and Webb, Vincent. 2006. Policing Gangs in America. New York : Cambridge University Press.
Klein, Malcolm. 1995. The American Street Gang. New York : Oxford University Press.
Klein, Malcolm and Maxson, Cheryl. 2006. Street Gang Patterns and Policies. New York : Oxford University Press.
Lara, Marco. 2006. Hoy te toca la muerte. Mexico City : Planeta.
LeValley, David. 2005. Supervisory Special Agent, Ms-13 National Gang Task Force, Fbi. Author interview. Washington, DC, October 21.
Logan, Samuel. 2009. This is for the Mara Salvatrucha. New York : Hyperion.
Manwaring, Max. 2005. Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency. Carlisle : Strategic Studies Institute. http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?pubID=597.
Martínez, Carlos. 2010a. La voz de las wilas. El Faro (San Salvador), October 3. http://www.elfaro.net/es/201009/noticias/2589.
Martínez, Juan José. 2010b. Anthropologist. Author interview. San Salvador, June 18.
Maxson, Cheryl. 2006. Gang Members on the Move. In The Modern Gang Reader, 3rd ed., ed. Egley, Arlen et al. Los Angeles : Roxbury. 117–29.
McGuire, Connie. 2006. Working paper on Central American Youth Gangs in the Washington, DC Area. Mimeograph. Washington, DC : WOLA.
Moreno, Douglas. 2010. Prisons Director. Author interview. San Salvador, June 18.
El Mundo (San Salvador). 2010. Caen cómplices de mareros que ordenaron paro. September 11. http://www.elmundo.com.sv.
Narváez, Juan Carlos. 2007. Ruta transnacional. Mexico City : Porrúa.
National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC). 2009. National Gang Threat Assessment 2009. Washington, DC : NGIC.
Newsweek . 2005. The Most Dangerous Gang in America. March 28 (Lexis Nexis).
Orellana, Celia. 2006. Probation Officer. Author interview. San Salvador, June 21.
Papachristos, Andrew. 2005. Gang World. Foreign Policy 147 (March–April): 4855.
Perea, Carlos Mario. 2006. Red transnacional de análisis sobre maras y pandillas: pandillas en México. Working paper. Mexico City : ITAM.
Poe, Charles (prod.). 2006. World's Most Dangerous Gang. DVD. USA : National Geographic Channel.
Policía Nacional Civil (PNC). 2009. Organización y funcionamiento de las pandillas en Centroamérica. Presentation at the Fifth Anti-Gang Convention, National Civilian Police of El Salvador, Sonsonate, April 28–30.
Poveda, Christian. 2009. Filmmaker. Author interview. Mexico City, April 1.
Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD). 2005. Informe sobre el desarrollo humano 2005. San Salvador : PNUD.
Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD). 2009. Informe sobre desarrollo humano para América Central 2009–2010. San José : PNUD.
Ranum, Elin. 2006. Pandillas juveniles transnacionales en Centroamérica, México y Estados Unidos: diagnóstico nacional Guatemala. San Salvador : IUDOP.
Rodgers, Dennis. 2007. Joining the Gang and Becoming a Broder: the Violence of Ethnography in Contemporary Nicaragua. Bulletin of Latin American Research 26, 4: 444–61.
Rodgers, Dennis. 2009. Slum Wars of the 21st Century. Development and Change 40, 5: 949–76.
Rogers, Joseph. 2003. Confronting Transnational Gangs in the Americas. Journal of Gang Research 10, 2: 3344.
Rogers, Joseph. 2007. Gangs and Terrorists in the Americas: an Unlikely Nexus. Journal of Gang Research 12, 2: 1930.
Savenije, Wim. 2004. La Mara Salvatrucha y el Barrio 18 St. Foreign Affairs en Español 4, 2: 3846.
Savenije, Wim. 2007. Las pandillas trasnacionales o “maras.” Foro Internacional 47, 3: 637–59.
Savenije, Wim. 2009. Maras y barras. San Salvador : FLACSO.
Strocka, Cordula. 2006. Youth Gangs in Latin America. SAIS Review 26, 2: 133–46.
Sullivan, John. 2006. Maras Morphing. Global Crime 7, 3–4: 487504.
Swecker, Chris. 2005. Assistant Director, Fbi. Testimony Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. April 20. http://www.fbi.gov.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2007. Crime and Development in Central America. Report. Vienna : UNODC.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2008. The Threat of Narco-Trafficking in the Americas. Report. Vienna : UNODC.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). 2010. The Globalization of Crime. Report. Vienna : UNODC.
Valenzuela, José, Nateras, Alfredo and Reguillo, Rossana, eds. 2007. Las maras. Mexico City : UAM/El Colegio de la Frontera Norte/Casa Juan Pablos.
Vigil, James. 2002. A Rainbow of Gangs. Austin : University of Texas Press.
Washington Times . 2004. Al Qaeda Seeks Tie to Local Gangs. September 28. http://www.washingtontimes.com.
Winton, Ailsa. 2007. Using “Participatory” Methods with Young People in Contexts of Violence. Bulletin of Latin American Research 26, 4: 497515.
Wolf, Sonja. 2009. El control de pandillas en la relación El Salvador-Estados Unidos. Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica 9, 4: 8596.
Wright, Alan. 2006. Organised Crime. Cullompton : Willa.
Zilberg, Elana. 2004. Fools Banished from the Kingdom: Remapping Geographies of Gang Violence between the Americas. American Quarterly 56: 765–95.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Latin American Politics and Society
  • ISSN: 1531-426X
  • EISSN: 1548-2456
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-politics-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score