The essence of the Salvadorean gangs that no government can break

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With indelible ink, the members of the Salvadorean gangs tattoo their skin with the promise of belonging to a kind of family that welcomes them for life

Members of the 'Maras Salvatruchas' arrested by the police of El Salvador

"The gang was always going to be with me, helping me in the good times and the bad, because that's the first thing the gang tells you," said William Arias, a former leader of Mara Salvatrucha # 13, to the BBC. From that moment on, it becomes an extension of what is a criminal group for society, but for them it is a family.

Leer en español: El componente de las maras salvadoreñas que ningún gobierno puede quebrar

The sale of arms, drugs, kidnapping, robbery, and extortion are some of the criminal actions that make these groups the terror of Central America. Although they are not exclusive to El Salvador, since they are found in other countries, they did emerge there and where they have more presence. It emerged in the 80s after the Civil War as a way to welcome internal migrants from the country. The purpose, like that of the majority of groups outside the law in the world, was diverted until, favored by the precarious conditions of the country, it became what it is today.

The eternal purpose of the Salvadoran governments has been to put an end to the gangs that terrorize the citizens of the country, but no attempt has been adequate to achieve it. From rough treatment to attacking their finances, nothing seems to end with these criminal groups that have their center in the poorest sectors.

The new president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, who began his term on June 1, has proposed at all costs to end violence and strengthen security. For this, he published Plan Cuscatlán. In it, heavy-handed actions are criticized and prioritize the need to combat poverty and other social and economic difficulties.

Read also: Meet Nayib Bukele, new president of El Salvador

The plan proposes three points to reduce the power of gangs:

1. Protect the cities: this point does not seek to attack directly the criminal groups, but to protect the centers of the main cities to avoid illicit behavior on their part and, thus, give a sense of security to its inhabitants. According to Bukele, it is in the historical centers of the cities where the gangs achieve more economic flow and, in addition, they are the most optimal windows for extortion.

2. Communication in prisons: prisons, instead of being centers of imprisonment and condemnation, become the epicenters where the mafias operate. According to the BBC, the president affirmed that "80% of the orders of homicides and extortions come from the prisons", so the solution, according to his plan, is to cut communications outside prisons. At this point, the fight against corruption within them is also included, since it is with the support of official members that many of the illegal activities continue.

3. Attacking the finances: this action does not directly attack the gangs either, but will focus on finding those who finance them. If this is achieved, the maras will be left without money to operate. They will attack, for example, political groups that are suspected of having links and also dismantle the companies that have a front to launder the money they get from drugs and arms trafficking.

For BBC, Sofía Martínez, an expert consultant in security in Central America, those proposals and those that have already existed in previous governments "are a sort of déjà vu of what has already been done". In these proposals with which Bukele seeks to attack the gangs on different fronts that are not directly, he forgets an important component: the problem is social and the way to end it is to strengthen the living conditions so that there is no need approach these gangs.

Beyond new or old policies, with sign language and fidelity codes, the gangs have achieved a component of unity that has made them stronger than any attempt to break the mafia.

"I live for my mother, but I'm going to die for my neighborhood." With that simple premise, mentioned by William Arias, mantra of the mara salvatruchaalso called MS 13—, the commitment to the neighborhood becomes more important than life itself. Since the gang matters more than life, there is no public policy that is worth more than union. And from there begins the violence imparted by the members of these groups.

Becoming part of a mara is not a matter of power games, organized crime or illicit businesses; not for them. Who enters, does not leave. Many arrive expecting the promise of a government that does not give them hope, because without work, education, security or possibilities they have no choice but to take advantage of others.

Not only the initials M and S represent them and mark them for life on their skin, but also 3 points show the only three paths you have as a member of a gang. It's not "sex, drugs and rock n 'roll", but "jail, hospital or death". With that thought that ends up taking root, it makes sense why the rough treatment or jail or any other action have been able to finish them.


LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez

Translated from "El componente de las maras salvadoreñas que ningún gobierno puede quebrar"

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