Category Archives: Gang violence

Where to be young is a crime

Salvadoran youth continue to bear the brunt of the violence in El Salvador. People say that to be young in El Salvador is a punishment. Life is hard. Neither schools nor homes provide refuge from the insecurity that permeates the country. There are few economic opportunities for the educated and the under-educated.

Others say that to be young is a crime. The gangs harass you, perhaps kill you, if you do not carry out criminal acts for them. It's also rather clear that death squads are operating in the country. They've gone around torturing and killing youth simply for being youth. While I was thrown off by the comparison, one officer told me that some people see poor, young men here the same way that police see black men in the United States.

On Monday, a seventeen-year-old boy was shot and killed in Soyapango as he was about to board a bus to bring him to school. He was shot at least 15 times. Bryan was preparing to go to university to study systems engineering. According to the Asociacion de Colegios Privados de El Salvador, 13% of students who had been enrolled at the beginning of the year have dropped out of their schools because of insecurity.

According to authorities, Bryan was the 34th student killed in 2015. He is also the fourth student killed in the last week. Three children murdered near a river in Olocuilta last Thursday. The police believe that Brandon, Alfredo and Cesar were killed because they refused to carry out favors for a gang in their neighborhood. However, there is a strong possibility that they were instead murdered by death squads operating within the country's security forces. There also doesn't appear to be any connection between the three young men and the country's gangs.

Their only crime? To be a young male looking to survive a war between the State and the country's two main gangs.

Salvadoran gangs want to talk again

According to this article on Violence in El Salvador reaches civil war levels, there were 2,965 homicides in El Salvador during the first six months of the year. That's over 1,000 more homicides than occurred in 2014.

If El Salvador didn't experience another murder the rest of the year, it would still finish the year with a homicide rate of approximately 48 per 100,000 Salvadorans.
The causes of such drastic rise in homicides are numerous and complex, ranging from poverty and marginalization of majority of the population of the poor suburbs, barrios, to the fact that El Salvador represents one of the main land transport routes in the lucrative drug trafficking business.
Yet, the main short term cause might be the renewed armed rivalry between the two main gangs in El Salvador, MS 13 and Barrio 18, which has escalated in recent months.
Conflict is further exasperated by the uncompromising attitude of the police which has adopted the aggressive stance towards all gang members, following the example of Mexico, where similar security policies have led to massive human rights abuses and crimes by the police and the army.
That's probably right but it might also be a signal from the maras that they really want the government to sit down and negotiate. After a rather violent first six months of the year, there has been a noticeable decrease in the number of murders during the first two weeks of July.

That, of course, leads to the MS-13 and 18th Street gang leaders producing a new letter indicating their interest in finding a solution to the problem of violence in the country. They are letting it be known that they are responsible for the decrease as an act of good faith. The PNC is claiming their policies shown progress.

I don't know if another truce can be salvaged. The public appetite is not there. They want blood and the government and police appear willing to give it to them. I spoke with two people yesterday who were generally positive of the first truce. The truce provided an opportunity for the international community to engage in gang prevention and other projects in parts of the country where they had been unable to work before. Some of the "former" gang members and potential gang recruits seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to participate in meaningful life.

One also thought that the gang leaders were supportive of the truce and providing an opportunity for their foot soldiers to leave because there were just too many of them to support and / or control. It takes a lot of money to support an army. The gangs had evolved to such a point where they did not need tens of thousands of troops.

While we didn't get around to discussing whether there was any way the truce could have been salvaged, they really seemed to believe that it was a genuine effort on the part of thousands of gang members to do something else. Definitely not everyone but the actions of the government, PNC, and international community and the gangs themselves have moved that number closer to zero than it should have been.

Latin American gangs invade Italy

Michael Day has an interesting post on the influence of Latin American gangs in Italy with Milan struggles to cope as Latin American gang violence starts afflicting general public for The Independent. Apparently beginning in 2006 and 2007, Italians authorities began noticing the presence of MS-13 gang members as well as those from approximately 15 other groups.

For the most part, gang violence did not affect Italians so much given that the violence was believed to be primarily internecine. However, that now seems to be changing.
That problem is Latin-American gangs. In the past 10 years, there have been attacks, robberies and rapes linked to  MS-13 and rival gangs. But until now, the serious violence has been internecine. However, police and community leaders could see that it was only a matter of time before members of the public became the victims.
Evidence of MS-13, the gang formed in 1980s Los Angeles by El Salvadorans fleeing their war-torn country, appeared in Milan in 2006. Around that time, police and community workers became aware that young men declaring themselves to be part of the Latin Kings, the group formed in New York in the 1980s, were active in the city. Reports suggest that their arrival seems to have attracted more friends and family members from Hispanic communities – gangs included.
Milan’s flying squad, the squadra mobile, led by Alessandro Giuliano, has now mapped the complicated patchwork of  gangs spread across the city from Bovisa-Villapizzone in the north, where the ticket inspector was attacked, to Corso Lodi in the south-east. There are now around 15 or so groups.
The growth of and threat from Latin American gangs in Italy are now caught up in debates between liberals and conservatives over immigration and assimilation in Italy. It's interesting. A few years ago, we used to hear a lot more about the spread of the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs throughout the United States. We had workshops here in Scranton about their limited, but expanding, gang presence.

There was some concern last year that gang members were trying to take advantage of last year's immigration crisis to secure legal status in the US. However, even there, the concern seemed to have been driven by the possibility that minors traveling to the US were being trafficked by gangs to work in prostitution and other criminal enterprises - less so gang members pursuing asylum.