FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Gang Violence Rages Across Central America

Gang violence, fueled by the drug traffic in Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean, is having a serious effect on people’s lives and threatens to alter the social fabric of the countries in the region. Central American gangs, also called maras, named after the voracious ants known as marabuntas, are involved in a wide range of criminal activities such as arms and drug trafficking, kidnapping, human trafficking, people smuggling and illegal immigration.

One of the best known Central American gangs, Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, has an estimated 70,000 members that are active in urban and suburban areas. It originated in Los Angeles in the 1960s, and then spread to other parts of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America. The gang’s activities have called the attention of the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which have conducted raids and arrested hundreds of gang members. The FBI called MS-13 “America’s most violent gang.”

MS-13 has been particularly active in Los Angeles County, the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington, D.C., Long Island, New York, and the Boston area. Their code of conduct includes fierce revenge and cruel retributions. Members of this gang were originally recruited by the Sinaloa in their battle against the Los Zetas Mexican cartels in their ongoing drug war south of the U.S. border.

Many gang members living in the U.S. have been deported back to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, adding to the already serious social problems in those countries. They brought with them crack cocaine and predictably, drug-related crimes were soon on a steep increase. Those gang members deported from the U.S. enlarged the local groups and found easy recruits among the local disenfranchised youth. Today, most of the members are in their twenties, while their leaders are in the late 30s and 40s.

The gangs’ battles with the police for control of working-class neighborhoods were met in each case with strong-hand tactics by the police. They also proved unproductive, since they unleashed more random violence and terror. As a result of each government’s efforts to eliminate them, many gang members returned to the U.S., where they continued their involvement in criminal activities. Today, the gangs have expanded into southern Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, calling for a more organized effort to combat them.

Because of the great loss of the lives they cause, the Pan American Health Organization and also the World Assembly of the World Health Organization have defined violence as a “public health problem.” They proposed an epidemiological approach to address it that consists of a) definition of the problem and gathering of information, b) identifying causes and risk factors, c) development and trial of specific interventions, and d) evaluation of policies’ effectiveness.

In the past, this approach was used successfully in Colombia where, in the 1990s. An agreement was signed between government officials and the leaders of gangs which had been operating in the city of Cali. As a result, the gangs’ leaders stopped their criminal activities and the government officials made a commitment to provide loans and technical training to gang members.

A similar approach is now being used in El Salvador where the government is trying to curb gang activity through an ambitious jobs program complemented by other social measures such as training and provision of jobs that could be followed by the other countries in the region.

Successful approaches suggest that controlling gang violence demands long-term action, even when it might not show immediate results. In addition, prevention activities must be targeted at the youngest sectors of the population, particularly those suffering from abusive conditions at home and that because of poverty and no formal education lack the conditions for fulfilling their basic needs and finding jobs.

An adequate set of actions involves providing job training and psychological assistance, as well as job opportunities and loans to those youngsters. The use of a multifaceted approach may be the best guarantor against the social scourge of gang violence in the Central American region.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
Kenn Orphan
The Power of Language in the Anthropocene
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster Rolls on Into Year Two
Rajan Menon
Yemen’s Descent Into Hell: a Saudi-American War of Terror
Russell Mokhiber
Nick Brana Says Dems Will Again Deny Sanders Presidential Nomination
Nicholas Levis
Three Lessons of Occupy Wall Street, With a Fair Dose of Memory
Steve Martinot
The Constitutionality of Homeless Encampments
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The Aftershocks of the Economic Collapse Are Still Being Felt
Jesse Jackson
By Enforcing Climate Change Denial, Trump Puts Us All in Peril
George Wuerthner
Coyote Killing is Counter Productive
Mel Gurtov
On Dealing with China
Dean Baker
How to Reduce Corruption in Medicine: Remove the Money
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail