MS13 News

Research Sheds Light on Obstacles to Leaving El Salvador Gangs

Research Sheds Light on Obstacles to Leaving El Salvador Gangs

A recent study of El Salvador's gang phenomenon has shown that, while it is possible for gang members to abandon these groups, desistance depends on several factors, including the gangs' own acquiescence.

MS13 Profile

MS13

MS13

The Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, is perhaps the most notorious street gang in the Western Hemisphere. While it has its origins in the poor, refugee-laden neighborhoods of 1980s Los Angeles, the gang's reach now extends from Central American nations like El Salvador and through Mexico, the United States, and Canada. They rob, extort and bully their way into neighborhoods and have gradually turned to transnational crimes such as human smuggling and drug trafficking. Their activities have helped make the Northern Triangle -- Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras -- the most violent place in the world that is not at war. In October 2012, the US Department of the Treasury labeled the group a "transnational criminal organization," the first such designation for a US street gang. 

More MS-13 News

  • Research Sheds Light on Obstacles to Leaving El Salvador Gangs

    Almost 60% of former gang members received threats as they left their groups

    A recent study of El Salvador's gang phenomenon has shown that, while it is possible for gang members to abandon these groups, desistance depends on several factors, including the gangs' own acquiescence.

  • Homicides Down in El Salvador, But Govt Measures Not the Only Reason

    Homicides in El Salvador have decreased significantly in January and February 2017.

    Official data shows homicides have decreased significantly in El Salvador during the past year, but contrary to statements by the authorities, the government's extraordinary anti-gang measures are not the only reason for the steep decline.

  • El Salvador's ‘Black Widows' and the Growing Sophistication of the MS13

    The MS13 allegedly killed husbands to collect life insurance

    Authorities in El Salvador dismantled a MS13 network allegedly dedicated to forcing women into marriages before assassinating the husband to collect insurance money, a scheme that speaks to the gang's growing business sophistication.

  • El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

    El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

  • El Salvador Intensifies Attempts to Break Gangs' Control over Prisons

    El Salvador's authorities have announced a large-scale transfer of incarcerated gang members

    Authorities in El Salvador have announced a massive transfer of incarcerated MS13 and Barrio 18 members to a single prison facility, in an effort to reverse the gangs' consolidation of power within the penitentiary system. 

  • Divine Intervention: The El Salvador Gang Members Who Found God

    A growing number of gang members are turning to God.

    It's happening in the streets, in the communities still controlled by gangs, and in the segregated prisons. It's a phenomenon which, despite being hard to believe at first, has been recognized by prison authorities: Hundreds of gang members are abandoning and outright rejecting their gangs, opting instead for the teachings of evangelical churches. In Gotera prison, close to 500 members of the Barrio 18 have retired from gang life and are now saying that they have no relation with the group. In some communities in San Salvador, ex-members of the MS13 openly preach in rival territory. Is El Salvador ready for this unprecedented phenomenon?

  • Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

    In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and the economy bustles with everything from chicken stands to men who can build customized jail cells. Here you can find a party stocked with champagne and live music. But you can also find an inmate hacked to pieces. Those who guard these quarters are also those who get rich selling air-conditioned rooms, and those who pay the consequences if they get too greedy. That's how inmates live, on their own virtual island free from government interference, in the San Pedro Sula prison.

  • Negotiations Between El Salvador Govt, MS13 Prove Elusive

    El Salvador President Salvador Sánchez Cerén

    The administration of El Salvador President Salvador Sánchez Cerén insists that it will not negotiate with the MS13 gang, which made a public proposal at the beginning of January that included its own dismantlement. The most recent signals coming from the government suggest that the proposal won't be taken seriously. Nonetheless, there are also indications that parallel attempts at dialogue could be made.

  • 540 Children were Murdered Last Year in El Salvador: Report

    A grieving family in El Salvador

    A recent police report in El Salvador shows that an average of 1.5 children were murdered every day last year, an illustration of how an intense gang conflict and generalized violence are impacting the country's youngest and most vulnerable populations. 

  • El Salvador Gangs Responsible for 84% of Forced Displacement: Report

    Members of El Salvador's MS13 street gang.

    A new report from El Salvador says that the country's street gangs accounted for 84 percent of forced displacements in 2016, in the undeclared war that is ravaging that country.

Investigations

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The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...