FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Origins of MS-13

With all the talk about the (well-documented) violence and viciousness of MS 13, it is  our responsibility to understand the origins and evolution of this very real criminal threat.

MS 13 was founded in the early 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in the barrios  of Los Angeles, mainly as a response to intimidation from the many already existing gangs, many from other South and Central American countries, but also Americans, who warred for control of those neighborhoods, and the protection of their own.

This mirrored the history of many other immigrant groups when they first arrived in the US, in the face of all kinds of hostility. The “Gangs of New York” of the mid and late 19th Century, the rise of the Mafia and Cosa Nostra among Italian immigrants in the early 20th Century, and the so-called  “Jewish Mafia” of the lower East Side during the same period, as well as the extension of Chinese “tongs”  to the US in late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and recently the formation and expansion of Vietnamese criminal gangs are all examples of this time-tested tradition

As a result of these gang wars, many MS 13 members ended up in prison, where, perhaps because of their relative numerical weakness in the prison hierarchy, they sought strength through becoming “the worst of the worst” and intimidating other inmate gangs. They sought and earned a reputation for ruthless, merciless violence, which then attracted the most pathologically violent inmates to their ranks, as they opened them to members of other Spanish-speaking groups, primarily Hondurans and Guatemalans.

In the 1990s many MS 13 members were deported back to their home countries – mainly  El Salvador. There, amid weak and corrupt police and government oversight, they found at first encouragement and eventually co-option of their extreme “Death-squad-like” tactics.

The government first tried to co-opt the gang, but eventually ended in competition with a shadow government by the gang. It spread to criminal elements of Honduras and Guatemala, encouraged by the same ineffectiveness of government oversight and control. The co-operation of this increasingly powerful gang with the drug cartels brought a huge infusion of money, and enabled the gang, both in Central America and in the US to add powerful incentives to its recruitment drives.

Now, MS 13 is an extremely well-armed and financed paramilitary force, operating openly in Central America and more clandestinely in the USA. But it is the US, with its long history of destabilizing and exploiting Central American governments, that created the conditions that allowed MS 13 to expand and flourish – and conditions in LA’s Barrrios, and US prisons which led to its formation in the first place.

MS 13 is not an “alien” threat. It is a home-grown danger, in a long tradition of American gang activity. It’s not the openness of our borders, but rather the represiveness of our social and economic systems, the ineffectiveness (and corruption) of our prisons and police departments that has nurtured this very real menace.

Prison and police reform, a reexamination of our whole love affair with maintaining order through the repressive use of violence or the threat of violence (rather than mutual respect and civility) –  is the real answer to this threat. “Border Security” is just an expensive boondoggle to distract the electorate and enrich the private contractors who support this new, highly profitable successor to the “War On Drugs.™”

Ned Depew is a freelance political pundit and film critic, as well as a poet and writer of fiction and non-fiction @thenedpages.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Justin Anderson
Don’t Count the Left Out Just Yet
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail