The Mara Salvatrucha: Are They Looking to Settle in Other Regions of Latin America?

Given the powerful offensive of the Executive of El Salvador against the criminal organization of La Mara Salvatrucha, the Salvadoran Vice President, Félix Ulloa, has said that the members of this gang have begun to move towards the countries of South America .

Mara Salvatrucha

Photo: AP

LatinAmerican Post | David García Pedraza

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Leer en español: La Mara Salvatrucha: ¿Estarán buscando instalarse en otras regiones de América Latina?

The Mara Salvatrucha, a criminal organization created almost 40 years ago in southern California, continues to be a benchmark for drug trafficking, illegal possession of weapons, crime, human trafficking and insecurity for everyone who hears its name. It is also a symbol of violent control in the societies where it infiltrates, mainly in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Perhaps the country that has faced this criminal organization the most in recent years has been El Salvador. With the state of emergency in which the nation finds itself at the head of Nayib Bukele, this small country has managed, in a very radical way for human rights defenders, to control and imprison members of this gang, and also those who are considered supporters of this illegal group.

The gangs, as they are colloquially known, have a whole system for their criminal activities: from using a language that only its members can interpret, having symbols such as tattoos and hairstyles, to even following a moral code when attacking their victims. This group has strong knowledge in the use of weapons since its members have been hired by Mexican cartels in order to seek protection and alliances that would allow both sides to profit from assets from drug trafficking and hit men. In addition, they are a crude reference for human trafficking, especially of migrants seeking to leave Central America to reach the United States.

El Salvador and its fight against the Salvatrucha

The arrival of Nayib Bukele marked the beginning of the most striking confrontation against the gangs. It was a campaign promise to restore lasting security to the entire territory of El Salvador, which launched the ''War Against Gangs'' in March 2022 due to rising insecurity and homicide rates in the nation.

The state of emergency requested from the Legislature was approved at the end of March and entered into force the same day. Taking refuge in the powers that the Executive allowed him, Bukele organized the public force to investigate and capture the individuals belonging to Las Maras and then recommend to the Ministry of Justice to carry out the pertinent sentences.

It may interest you: Maras in El Salvador: Who is Nayib Bukele Facing?

However, several organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have denounced the procedures carried out by the El Salvador police, considering them inhumane, abusive, and potentially dangerous to the lives of those captured. These complaints have been joined by the Human Rights Observatory by exposing that figures have been made up, in addition to including false positives and ordering, from high command, persecutions and arbitrary arrests to show figures with which to manipulate public opinion.

Even so, 86% of the population surveyed in El Salvador by CID Gallup approve and support the actions that Nayib Bukele has implemented to improve the security and image of the nation in the world, and, according to TResearch, 94% would vote for his re-election. Bukele himself recently invited the foreign population to visit El Salvador in December, since the country will host the Miss Universe pageant in 2023.

Did the gangs lose their power in Central America?

With the radical repression of everything attributed to the gangs in El Salvador, the vice president, Félix Ulloa, expressed in mid-January that the gangs are migrating to various countries in South America, and emphasized that he has had information that a considerable group of this criminal organization has settled in northern Chile. However, he did not reveal the source or the figures of this pronouncement.

From Chile, the police have requested a session in the Legislature in Santiago to be able to deliver relevant information on the possible presence of the Mara Salvatrucha in southern territory. In addition, with the growth of criminal actions that include the insecurity problem that Chile has been going through since 2022, this hypothesis is gaining more and more strength in Chilean society.

The Maras are joined by the intentions of other criminal gangs to establish themselves in this southern cone country, such as: El Tren de Aragua, the Sinaloa and Jalisco Cartels and the Gulf Clan of Colombia. The ideal of all these organizations is to have the entire Latin American region besieged, from Mexico to Chile.

Despite the fact that the Maras have tried to establish themselves in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, it has not been possible due to the existing criminal organizations in these countries, in addition to the wave of violence that each one has experienced, especially Colombia, as it has its 'local' gangs that control the regions.

If a critical analysis of the discourse of Ulloa's words were carried out, it could be inferred that he is suggesting that thanks to the radical but effective actions of the Salvadoran public force, the gangs have decided to withdraw from their nation and go to "more flexible and violent" ones. whose common factor is the increase of leftist ideas in the south of the continent, in the face of the discipline and rigidity of central America.

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