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.”

November 15, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Ukania: the Land Where the Queen’s Son Has His Shoelaces Ironed by His Valet
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Spraying Poisons, Chasing Ghosts
Anthony DiMaggio
In the Wake of the Blue Wave: the Midterms, Recounts, and the Future of Progressive Politics
Christopher Ketcham
Build in a Fire Plain, Get What You Deserve
Meena Miriam Yust
Today It’s Treasure Island, Tomorrow Your Neighborhood Store: Could Local Currencies Help?
Karl Grossman
Climate of Rage
Walter Clemens
How Two Demagogues Inspired Their Followers
Brandon Lee
Radical Idealism: Jesus and the Radical Tradition
Kim C. Domenico
An Anarchist Uprising Against the Liberal Ego
Elliot Sperber
Pythagoras in Queens
November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail