publicidad

In photos: Here's how Central American gangs were born and took root

The Mara Salvatrucha gang was born in Los Angeles in the 80s. With their tattooed bodies, gang signs and codes of violence, these armed groups have expanded and continue to kill across Central America.

Por: Univision
Publicado: 22 May | 04:55 PM EDT
Un pandillero de la Mara Salvatrucha, una de las bandas más grandes de E...
1/12
It is believed that the 'maras' were born in the mid-80s in different cities of the American West, mainly Los Angeles. Founded by Central American migrants, the majority are Salvadorans who fled their country during civil war and settled in California neighborhoods full of poverty, crime and drug trafficking. They adapted to the criminal system of their new cities and some were grouped in the Mara Salvatrucha (also known as the MS-13) and others integrated to Barrio 18 (or Mara 18). Over time they were consolidated and became the two largest rival gangs, according to American anthropologist Thomas Ward. In the photo, a 'Mara Salvatrucha' leader shows the hand signs that represent his group, inside a prison cell in El Salvador, in 2014. Foto: Jan Sochor/Getty Images | Univision
publicidad
Violencia El Salvador
2/12
In early 2000, a policy of mass deportations initiated by the George W. Bush administration in Washington began as a result of increased violence in the state of California. Thousands of gang members with criminal backgrounds, who grew up in the United States, were forced to return to the streets of Central America and found nothing more to do than continue the expansion of their criminal groups. Donald Trump has pledged to take similar action. In the image, members of the 'Mara Salvatrucha' are escorted by hooded policemen upon their arrival at the Quezaltepeque jail, in El Salvador, in March 2016. Foto: José Cabezas/Reuters | Univision
publicidad
Violencia El Salvador
3/12
According to Insight Crime, more than 20,000 criminals returned to Central America between 2000 and 2004. Over time, these groups became transnational organized crime structures with strength in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, ties in Mexico and presence in at least 35 U.S. states. The photograph is a reproduction of a mural with the elements that identify the 'Mara Salvatrucha,' found in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 2014. Foto: Orlando Sierra/Getty Images | Univision
publicidad
Violencia El Salvador
4/12
In October 2012, the United States Department of the Treasury labeled the Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13) a "transnational criminal organization." It was the first time a U.S. street gang had been designated as such. In the U.S., maras operate like any U.S. street gang, focused on local drug sales and the "protection" of urban territory. In this 2006 photograph, a 20-year-old American citizen of Salvadoran birth and ancestry, aka Snoopy, shows off his tattoos in Durham, North Carolina. A former member of the Mara Salvatrucha in California, he traveled to North Carolina in search of work, after leaving the gang life. Foto: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images | Univision
publicidad
Violencia El Salvador
5/12
In Central America, where the scope and size of the gang (relative to the overall population) is larger than in the United States, the operations of the MS-13 are more diversified. This includes extortion, kidnapping, and control of the illegal drug market. Attracted to the thousands of Central American migrants trying to enter the United States, MS-13 has incorporated human trafficking into its activities. In Central America, the Mara Salvatrucha provides a crucial labor force for foreign criminal organizations, such as the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas. In the photo, members of the 'Mara Salvatrucha' are crowded into a cell in the Quezaltepeque police station. These overcrowded cages were designed for 72-hour arrests, but some gang members remain in them for more than a year. Foto: Giles Clarke/Getty Images | Univision
publicidad
Violencia El Salvador
6/12
Violence throughout Central America has multiplied in recent years as a result of the expansion of the maras. Violence in Central America has led to a five-fold increase in the number of refugee applications in the United States. According to the United Nations, of the five countries with the highest homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants in the world, four are in Central American: Honduras with a rate of 90.4, Belize 44.7, El Salvador 41.2, and Guatemala 39.9. The only country on this list outside Central America is Venezuela, which ranks second with 53.7. A member of the 'Mara 18' poses for a photograph at the Izalco prison, about 40 miles from San Salvador, in 2013. Foto: Ulises Rodriguez/Reuters | Univision
publicidad
Violencia EL Salvador
7/12
In March 2012, leaders of the MS-13 and its rivals in Barrio18 agreed to a national truce negotiated through community and church groups, and facilitated by the government. The apparent ceasefire was followed by a large drop in the homicide rate in El Salvador, and gang members suspended forced recruitment of youth. In Central America criminal gangs have been able to rebuild their organizational structures from inside prisons, as well as expand their ability to carry out crimes such as kidnapping, car theft, extortion schemes, and other criminal activities. In the image, two members of the 'Mara Salvatrucha' pose in a street in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 2014. Foto: Orlando Sierra/Getty Images | Univision
publicidad
VIolencia EL Salvador
8/12
Despite the truce, led in 2012 by the government of left-wing President Mauricio Funes (now accused of corruption and seeking asylum in Nicaragua), extortion and other dirty business continued, as well as intimidation, harassment and forced recruitment of adolescents and kids. The murders did not stop either, and in the long run the maras were strengthened in Central America. In the last year-and-a-half, 85 policemen have been killed by gang members. In the photograph, officers attend the funeral of Salvadoran police officer Wendy Mena, allegedly murdered by members of the 'Barrio 18.' Foto: Jose Cabezas/Reuters | Univision
publicidad
Violencia EL Salvador
9/12
The 'Maras' do not have a recognized leader. They operate horizontally and their cells extend throughout Central America, Mexico and the United States; they have even tried to establish themselves in Europe. Groups that control specific territories are called 'clicas.' The chiefs of the 'clicas' are the 'Palabreros,' and each has its own leader and hierarchy, usually with a first and second in command. Their changing and fluid structure makes them resistant to any attempt by the authorities to take tough measures against them. In the photo, Carlos Tiberio Valladares, alias Sniper, one of the leaders of the 'Mara Salvatrucha,' offers a press conference from a prison in San Salvador following the 2012 truce. Foto: Jose Cabezas/Getty Images | Univision
publicidad
In photos: Here's how Central American gangs were born and took root Get...
10/12
Tattoos, sometimes just simple marks of identification, others representing crimes committed, are a limitation in the world outside the maras. These drawings guide authorities and discriminate against those who try to join normal life outside the gang. Laser tattoo removal programs have spread to El Salvador, Honduras and the United States. In the photo a member of the 'Mara Salvatrucha' attends a tattoo removal session at the National Institute of Youth, San Salvador, in July 2016. Foto: Marvin Recinos/Getty Images | Univision
publicidad
Violencia El Salvador
11/12
Members of 'Barrio 18,' the great rival of the MS-13, are transferred from the Izalco prison to the San Francisco Gotera penitentiary in El Salvador in 2015. The growth of violence and poverty in the northern triangle of Central America has triggered migration to the north. Between October and November 2015, a total of 5,000 unaccompanied minors and a similar number of family units (parents or adults accompanying a child) were detained on the U.S.-Mexico border when attempting to enter without papers. This was almost double the number of arrests in 2014. Foto: José Cabezas/Reuters | Univision
publicidad
Violencia El Salvador
12/12
A probationer paints a wall to hide a graffiti from the 'Mara Salvatrucha' in Soyapango, El Salvador, June 2016. Attempts to reintegrate several organizations into society, supported by Central American governments, do not seem sufficient to stop the expansion of the violence. Foto: Jose Cabezas/Reuters | Univision