Investigation Reveals Social Control of Honduras Gangs

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A Honduran intelligence report accessed by local media documents the extent to which the MS13 and other gangs control the neighborhoods where they operate in Honduras.

According to an intelligence report seen by El Heraldo, gangs control daily life in the neighborhoods where they operate in capital city Tegucigalpa by establishing curfews and forcing residents to remain silent about their criminal activities. The gangs reportedly obligate residents to flash their car lights to signify they live in the neighborhood before entering, and stop vehicles — sometimes killing the occupants — if they fail to do so.

The investigation also revealed that gang members have taken over the homes of dozens of Hondurans, forcing them to flee to other neighborhoods or even other countries, according to El Heraldo. In addition, gangs force girls and young women to work as prostitutes, or to have sexual relationships with gang members.

The report also sheds light on the activities of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang, whose Honduran members have largely given up the practice of getting gang tattoos. According to an anonymous police source consulted by El Heraldo, the tattoos made MS13 members easily identifiable to rival gangs — who would capture and torture them for information — and law enforcement.

InSight Crime Analysis

Honduras is home to a number of different gangs including factions of the MS13 and Barrio 18 — which have a regional presence — and homegrown street gang Los Chirizos. The gangs are one factor driving the country’s high murder rate, which according to 2012 figures is the highest of any country in the world outside a war zone.

In comparison to neighboring El Salvador — where the MS13 is the dominant gang — Honduras’ criminal landscape is more fractured. The Barrio 18 gang has a greater presence in Honduras than the MS13, but is divided and has been challenged by local group Los Chirizos. In spite of divisions, the police report illustrates the extent to which gangs have usurped the state’s function of creating and enforcing rules in their areas of operation, and adds to previous reports of gangs establishing curfews in sections of Tegucigalpa. 

SEE ALSO: Barrio 18 Profile

The MS13’s changing stance on tattoos also indicates the gangs’ ability to adapt to law enforcement tactics. The maras also showed their capacity to evolve in response to tough anti-gang laws in the 2000s, building ties with local communities and recruiting fewer members in response to law enforcement strategies.  

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