Mapping MS13, Barrio 18 Territory in Guatemala City

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Officials in Guatemala have identified the areas of the capital controlled by the MS13 and Barrio 18 gangs, illustrating the degree of gang infiltration in the city with the third highest homicide rate in the world.

According to investigators from Guatemala’s anti-gang police unit (Panda), the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang operates in 13 zones in Guatemala City, while the Barrio 18 gang operates in seven, reported Siglo 21. (See InSight Crime’s map, below.) Both gangs also have a presence in several areas just outside the capital.

Panda investigators told Siglo 21 that the gangs used to finance themselves through bank robberies and kidnappings, but are now dedicated primarily to extortion. The anti-gang unit attributed around 30 percent of the country’s extortion cases to gangs.

According to Siglo 21, Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office has determined through investigations and gang testimony that the MS13 and Barrio 18 operate in different ways. While MS13 members reportedly follow a series of rules — avoiding practices such as killing children, carrying out indiscriminate attacks, and tattooing readily visible areas of their bodies — the Barrio 18 does not observe the same norms.

  MS13   Barrio 18   Both groups active 

InSight Crime Analysis

The MS13 and Barrio 18 are the largest and most powerful street gangs in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. While members of the same gang in different countries communicate — and may even exchange weapons and intelligence information — there are also differences in how the gangs operate from country to country.

Information from police investigators accessed by Siglo 21 indicates that the MS13 are the dominant group in Guatemala City, where they operate in a much larger swath of territory than their rivals, Barrio 18.

SEE ALSO: MS13 Profile

The information provided by police investigators echoes previous reports that the MS13 operates in a more organized, hierarchical manner than the Barrio 18 in Guatemala. Investigators have stated that MS13 members use more sophisticated tactics than their rivals, legally registering their vehicles and weapons, and dressing in a way that does not immediately identify them as gang members.

This information provides insight into the criminal dynamics of Guatemala City, which is the city with the third highest homicide rate in the world, according to figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Guatemala City had a murder rate of 116.6 per 100,000 in 2010, a figure surpassed only by Caracas, Venezuela and Basseterre in Saint Kitts and Nevis. 

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