With a cycle of crime leading to incarceration then onto recruitment, we need to learn a bit from history this time.
A recent crime last year in El Salvador bore all the hall marks of the MS-13 gang, a gang known for its more than violent crimes utilising machetes and machine guns to kill its targets. There was just one problem – it wasn’t them. Even though police initially thought the crime was committed by the gang, it was later revealed that is was carried out by Barrio 18 a rival gang whose on-going feud has cost thousands of people their lives.
A distinctive feature of both gangs is the head to toe tattoos, their murderous tactics and their goal to be more dominate. It started on the streets of Los Angeles and, as the gang members were pushed out of the United States, they have turned the Central American northern triangle into the area with the highest homicide rate in the world.
Some experts in the field of gangs have traced MS-13’s origins right back to the 1950s whereas Barrio 18 truly came into being in the 1980s when it broke away from one of California’s oldest Hispanic gangs, Clanton 14. Barrio 18 originally was composed of Mexican immigrants or people of Mexican descent, but soon began incorporating other Latino nationalities as Los Angeles’ immigrant community diversified.
Police hoped to eliminate Barrio 18 and MS-13 by incarcerating its leaders however it became their biggest mistakes as they used the US Prison system to recruit new gang members at an alarming rate and when that was coupled with mass deportations and weak South American governments, these groups returned to their native countries and waged war against each other.
In 2012 with murders averaging around 14 a day, the catholic church (which many of these gangs remained loyal to due to their upbringing) intervened and negotiated a cease fire which has worked in the mean time to bring homicide rates down but the two gangs belief that they can destroy each other is still prevalent and has the potential to explode and surprisingly not from these gangs but from an outside source – President Trump.
President Trump has publicly declared war on MS-13 which means the Department of Justice and other agencies working with it will attempt to shut down the gang and route it out of America. Potentially this will lead to the United States assisting its allies in South America in shutting down this gang but here is where we hit a problem.
In order to best combat this gang, a coordinated effort with law enforcement to shut down this gang would require imprisoning gang members and by doing this a recruitment spree like we haven’t seen before will happen. MS-13 and Barrio 18 would greatly increase their numbers and make US Prisons more dangerous; reports are also stating that MS-13 members pay guards at U.S. prisons to smuggle cellphones to them so they can communicate with members in Guatemala, Honduras as well as in the U.S. gang leaders behind bars routinely order subordinates to commit crimes including murder in the US.
On top of that, mass deportation of these gang members and leaders once they have been released from prison will only fuel tensions in South America and create a climate as dangerous as the times of Pablo Escobar and the Narcos.
Unless this time around a better effort is taken and the gangs are properly dealt with, we are only helping to fuel the fire that is MS-13 and Barrio 18.