Exploring the gang problem

In exploring the problem of the gangs in El Salvador and other Central American countries, there are several good studies and articles available on the Internet. The ones I recommend include:

Neither War nor Peace -- International comparisons of children and youth in organized armed violence by the Children and Youth in Organized Armed Violence project (COAV). The El Salvador report in this extensive study offers a look at the social forces giving rise to gangs in El Salvador.

North American Transnational Youth Gangs: Breaking the Chain of Violence by the US-based Heritage Foundation offers research statistics and history surrounding the gang issue.

Gang Uses Deportation to Its Advantage to Flourish in U.S., Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2005. This excellent article provides a look into the connection between a US immigration policy of deportations and the spread of the gangs.

Mara Salvatrucha: What is it, Why is it here, and What is to be Done About It? by Karen Muth. My daughter's college paper reviews many of the published resources regarding Mara Salvatrucha.

18 With a Bullet. This PBS documentary and accompanying website takes an inside look at the 18th Street gang.


Carlos X. said…
Tim (and Friends), I have a question that I always ask myself when I consider these problems. Which is the real El Salvador? I am not sure that I know, but I have considered two possibilities.

The first one was defined for me a long time ago. Anyone that knows the first thing about me knows that I am a devotee of Oscar Romero. Exactly one month before his death, he described El Salvador as "un pueblo que no es por naturaleza violento, sino que ama la paz y quiere soluciones racionales." (El Salvador is "a nation that is not violent by nature, but rather loves peace and wants rational solutions.") I believe that because of the source. To me Romero was El Salvador's Ghandi, but then again, Ghandi preached peace and he wanted the Indians to work it out with the Pakistanis, and as soon as Ghandi died, so did that vision of harmony.

After Romero died, the country was plunged into a fratricidal violence that the U.N. Truth Commission could only describe as "Madness." Truly, it seems that something snapped. "Only" 75,000 were killed, but the brutality of the killings was atrocious. Nuns were raped. Bodies were dumped in ravines, and left to rot on chicken wire fences to sow fear in the populace.

I have read some interesting analyses that essentially hold that the violence of the war has never subsided. This theory would hold that violence is a pervasive presence and that there is a hydraulic effect: you can end the belligerent violence, the military violence of war, and a different type of violence crops up on another front: criminal violence, gang violence. Even Romero spoke of "institutional violence," which he singled out as the source of the "subversive" violence that sprang up in the late 1970's.

And, so, my provocative question to anyone who has a thoughtful moment to ponder its answer is this: is El Salvador inherently violent? Is there something wrong with us? Or are we plagued by a violence that is unnatural and unbecoming to us, that ill fits, and can be shaken off and overcome permanently and entirely?
Anonymous said…
to understand el salvador (and hispanic america) you have to begin by reading an epic poem of spain's middle ages: poema de mio cid, an incredible violent and bloody story, about the cruelty, cold blood wherewith the christian castilian speaking warriors conquered spain territory from the muslims, thinking they were doing this for god service, and receiving the help of apostle james (santiago)in destroying and taking the new lands and beheading all non-believers.
inmediatly after the conquest of spain for christemdom ends, exactly in 1492, the americas continent is discovered, and spanish warriors come to this lands with the same war spirit and bloody cruelty taking lands and killing indians in the name of god. this has been the history of our nations from 1492 to 2006, and in no place more clear to see than in el salvador, where in order to keep power the spaniards have to instille hate for human life, and self destructive ideas. (the spaniards i reffer to are not those in spain, but the upper latin american classes.)
Anonymous said…
Don't you know the salvadorean profile yet?
Salvadorean people is very agressive by nature, or even better, by culture.
Remember Los Izalcos and Anastacio Aquino.

As the same way that Texas, here we say:

Anonymous said…
I mean, the human being is bad by nature.
Poors and riches.
The church needs to understand that Jesus is the only one that can change the problems of the human being.
A lot of people think that beating to the riches will be the solution.
If the poor persons are not transformed in their life style, nothing will be a hole solution.
Anonymous said…
I don’t like cultural explanations. I want to believe that there is a basic humanity common to us all and, when placed in the right environment, most people live prosperous, peaceful, happy lives regardless of our backgrounds. Indeed, you don’t hear about Salvadorian gangs in Sweden, a country that accepted many of our refugees during the war.

However, I will have to agree with Indira here. While materialistic greed is universal, the historical examples she sites indicate cultural/religious motivations for violence unique to Spanish culture.

Of course, the Spanish have overcome this cultural baggage over the past 25 years so we can too. However, there is little evidence we are moving in this direction. El Salvador remains culturally backward. It is the most traditional, least secular country in The World Values Survey http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/statistics/index.html. The Journal of Religion and Society published an article last year showing a correlation between religion and social dysfunction in prosperous democracies. It looks like this correlation holds for less-prosperous, semi-democracies as well.
alassleves said…
it's indira again: mogul is trying to spread a serious mistake about salvadoran people: the concept that salvadoran violence is of indian (native american) origin, instead of european-spanish origin.
salvadorean indian rebellions have been a reaction against violence. they were forced to adapt in their own land to a foreign culture, law, religion, LANGUAGE imposed by a foreign spaniard minority that never has been higher than 10% of population...no nation suffer such violent changes without severe, tragic consequences. in order to keep their minority power, spaniards (salvadoran upper class)not just use physical violence, but psychological violence: making indians lost all self esteem, and instilling in them self disdain: to be indian passed to be stupid, ignorant, VIOLENT, beings with no law or order. in 2024 will be the 500th anniversary of this culture destructive unhuman proccess. i think salvadoran people is still in the painful, tragic, forced process to adapt to a foreign culture and language, even though the native has been almost forgotten.
Carlos X. said…
Wow, I don't like any of the answers (but thank you all for responding!). I don't like the idea that religion = violence. I mean, I concede that there may well be a correlation, but I think that is when brutality takes over spirituality. I mean, Jesus was a very non-violent person.

I also don't like the other exclusive assignations of blame for violence (it's A, but not B). You can't say the Indians were non-violent. There has been a natural attempt to Romanticize the indigenous people, but if we are to respect their dignity, we have to deal with them objectively, without sentimentalism. And the reality of it is that they were extremely violent, in ways that scandalize modern sensibilities. But, of course, the dominant culture does not have a right to judge the subdued, especially 500 years in hindsight.

Nor can I say that it's just the right or the rich that are violent. Msgr. Saenz used the phrase that Tim used the other day, "the Violent Left," and it is true that there has been a certain type of anti-establishment protest particularly in the anti-globalization movement, first identified at the Seattle WTO meeting, that is characterized by rampant vandalims and the expression of outrage. Much of that has taken hold around the world.

But, the left does not have a lock on violence. Look at the death squads. Look at vigilantism, in Guatemala and other places in Central America. Look at gang violence. Look at police brutality. Look at the continuing "institutionalized violence" of the right, of the war on terror, of north-south imbalances, of world debt structures, etc.

It makes one's head spin how violent the storm that's raging!
Anonymous said…
Check out my site.
Was up before blogs were popular.
It needs to be updated but good info on El Sal.
Anonymous said…
el sal was WAY MORE violent back in 96 with Gangs, the only reason its brought to the light now is that saca is in bed with bush on Iraq, batallon cuscatlan over there, therefore, TPS benefits for Salvys living in the states to send money back to keep the economy afloat, converting to dolares in January 01 screwed the economy over even more, making toothpaste more expensive in the hula hula than it is in Walmart in L.A. -A total Joke. Then all of a sudden we are told to jump on the MS13 FEAR BANDWAGON over a stupid propoganda documentary on MS13, blended with media aledged reports tying MS13 to Alqaeda-BS. All done to please Caca Saca's mano duro in house policy on gang crackdown. bushsaca=caca

The left in S.A. is taking over, and El Sal is the U.S. Main Rights' fist, biggest embassy outside of cairo and BRasil.
THINK. El Sal is Guam undercover to excercise U.S. policy the way the Right in the USA wants. Would not doubt ex fmln/ex Atlacatl, are working together in Iraq BAttalon Cuscatlan.
USA has turned El Sal into a WHore over the last 15 years.,

Just ask any kid in Soyapango what they like better.

"Pollo Campero, or "Kentucky.."

They all say KEntooky.
bien triste.
Anonymous said…
la teologia de la liberacion enveneno primero a los curas y estos a sus feligreses. Cuando les enseñaron que Jesus es revolucionario y que hay que enfrentar a los poderosos como el se enfrento a los poderosos de Roma comenzo el veneno en la cabeza de miles de salvadoreños.

Romero con Cardenal y el cura Peruano, eran los mas fieles seguidores de esta teologia que formo muchos "frentes revolucionarios" en EL MUNDO y no solo en El Salvador.


tienen frente xxx de revolucion nacionl

ese es un motivo para que sean violentos los salvadoreños.

Quitar ese veneno costara años de retroceso.
Anonymous said…

You reveal your true colors when you criticize the poor kids for choosing fried chicken that you consider politically incorrect. Some people want to control even the most trivial details of our lives.
Basta de Casaca said…
El odio y la violencia la sembro USA en su entrenamiento a los militares salvadoreños durante la guerra; no les enseñaron a capturar a los "comunistas" "come niños", sino que los entrenaron y adoctrinaron para torturar y matar al enemigo, aunque este enemigo fueran sus mismos familiares.

Los jefes militares daban la "lista negra" a los soldados de los "comunistas" a quienes tenian que "desaparacer", y muchas veces los pobres soldados encontraban ahi el nombre sus mismos familiares a quienes tenian que matar por "defender la patria", ademas de esa forma salvar sus propios pellejos.

Esa doctrina se extendio del ejercito, a la Policia de Hacienda, la Guardia Nacional, Policia Nacional, etc. En ESE TIEMPO NO EXISTIAN LAS MARAS EN El SALVADOR, solo los futuros mareros, quienes despues de los acuerdo de paz, y al quedarse "sin trabajo" al desaparecer la Policia de Hacienda, la Guadia Nacional, la Policia Nacional se encontraron sin opciones para subsistir mas que emigrar (lo cual muchos hicieron), lanzarse a la delincuencia y luego a las maras importadas de USA como la mara 18 y la MS-13, la cual por cierto fue FUNDADA POR UN EX MIEMBRO DEL EJERCITO.