Informants Shed Light on Structure of MS13 in Guatemala

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Former MS13 members in Guatemala have provided a breakdown of the rankings and pay scales within the gang’s hierarchy, which serve as another indication of this organization’s increasingly sophisticated structure. 

Five Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) members-turned-informants told Public Ministry officials that orders were given by a central group of leaders known as the Council of Nine, many of whom are in prison, reported Prensa Libre.

The second level of the hierarchy are the heads of the gang “clicas” — cliques, or cells — operating in specific neighborhoods, who are paid nearly $2,000 a week and answer directly to the Council of Nine.

Then come those charged with handling financial affairs and carrying out specialized operations — such as police killings — who make just under $200 a week.

Next are the hired assassins, who receive about $65 per victim and are also responsible for collecting extortion debts.

The lowest ranking members carry out extortion attempts and perform menial tasks, such as grocery shopping. They receive less than $40 a week, as can be seen in the infographic below.MS13 Hierarchy

The informants also said the MS13 operated principally in three zones of Guatemala city, three outlying areas, and a city in the Quetzaltenango province. 

The Public Ministry reportedly plans to use the information in the case against 93 gang members accused of murder, extortion and attacks.

InSight Crime Analysis

The information revealed by the gang informants provides further insight into the MS13 gang hierarchy in Guatemala and how different jobs within the organization are valued. The pay scales are also a reminder of the financial motivation for impoverished youths to join a gang and work to gain the respect necessary to move up the ranks.   

What remains unclear is whether the money earned from the activities of lower ranking members is funneled to the top leadership or retained by clica leaders. 

Conceptualizing Guatemala’s MS13 as a hierarchical organization run by a central council is not new. A 2013 investigation by Mexican newspaper El Universal revealed that formerly disparate clicas were becoming more centrally organized and that the Council of Nine — contrary to its name — had grown to 37 members. MS13 rival Barrio 18 has a similar council called the “Wheel of the Barrio.”

SEE ALSO: MS13 Profile

This seemingly formalized structure is just one indication of the MS13’s apparently growing sophistication in Guatemala, as well as in neighboring Honduras and El Salvador. Other signs of this have included the discovery of highly sophisticated weaponry belonging to MS13 members. The perceived threat posed by the MS13 was highlighted by the United States labeling it a transnational criminal organization in 2013. 

Some observers have said that the (now defunct) MS13-Barrio 18 gang truce in El Salvador facilitated the expansion of the gangs, and gave them the space needed to organize themselves more efficiently. It’s possible that there may have been something of a spillover effect in Guatemala, particularly given that the maras maintain contact across national borders

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