MS-13 and Mara-18: what you’re not being told

August 17, 2014   |   Justin King

Justin King | The Anti-Media

This week a mass shooting in a Honduran bar triggered fears of increased violence from the two gangs involved. Eight were killed in the shootout, and police have offered a reward of a little more than $1000 US for information. Thumbnail credit: teartattoo.com

Mara-18 and Mara Salvatrucha (commonly known as MS-13) are known as two of the most violent and feared Central American gangs. The tattoos of the gangs have become symbols that have been used to strike fear of immigrants into the hearts of Americans. Of course, the reality is a little different than the convenient xenophobic story line.

The gangs did not originate in some mythical banana republic. Both gangs have the “Made in America” label, and not in some confusing way blaming US foreign policy in Central America. The gangs were both founded in Los Angeles.

Mara Salvatrucha was founded in Los Angeles to protect Salvadoran refugees from Latino gangs operating in the areas where the Salvadoran population settled after fleeing unrest in their home country in the 1970s. The main difference between the preexisting gangs in LA and MS-13 was that the Salvadorans had experience in guerilla warfare and a commitment to violence that was unparalleled. Eventually, the gang strengthened and gained some prominence inside the prison system. Once contacts in prison were made, the gang began to expand across the United States and into Central America.

Mara-18 reportedly originated as early as the late 1950s. It began as a new subset of the Clanton 14, which is the oldest known Latino street gang in the US with roots going back to the 1920s. Mara-18 was intended to be an expansion of the Clanton clique, but Mara-18 began accepting members that were not of Mexican heritage. This led to a split. Mara-18 has kept a lower profile than MS-13, but is believed to have established the same transnational reach.

Both gangs have adopted a cellular structure that allows affiliated gangs in different geographic areas to operate independently of each other. There is no known centralized leadership for either gang.

Both gangs engage in drug trafficking, prostitution, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, and auto thefts. The FBI has established a task force specifically targeting MS-13.

This does not excuse the criminal activities of these gangs, but simply points out a false narrative in the media in accordance with Anti-Media’s mission. The next time the talking heads tell you about the menacing Salvadoran gang, remember, it isn’t a Salvadoran gang, it’s a Californian one. The Central American countries didn’t export the violence here, the US exported it to them.

The shooting in Honduras is likely to fan the flames of gang war across Central America and the United States.

This article is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Justin King and TheAntiMedia.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to receive our latest articles.

Author: Justin King

Justin King joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in July of 2014. His topics of interest include activism, human rights, international relations, and military affairs. Born in Japan, he currently resides in the United States.

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