Mara Salvatrucha

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Mara Salvatrucha member with a tattooed name

The term Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS-13 , MS or just Mara for short ) encompasses a large number of gangs that operate in North and Central America . Its members are mostly of Latin American origin. The first country of the original members is El Salvador . The Mara Salvatrucha is considered to be more aggressive and more violent than most other gangs. The number of members was estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 in 2005.


The origin lies in the respective Latin American countries and their social conditions. Many of the Latin American countries had been in civil war for years . During these times, numerous Latin Americans fled to the USA . In the 1960s, so-called school maras also formed, who fought for the respective issues of their school . It happened that maras from different schools met to fight. However, these early maras were less violent than today's maras and then dissolved again. During the 1980s, loose alliances of opposition members and insurgents existed again and again , who founded a kind of mara, but such alliances later dissolved again. During the civil war, associations of opposition supporters and insurgents were repeatedly crushed by force.

In the United States, immigrants experienced the gangs there. These were mainly the Crips, Bloods , Nuestra Familia , Mexican Mafia and the 18th Street Gang , which later received the name Mara 18 in the Latin American states .

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) was founded in the early 1980s in Seoul International Park, a playground in Los Angeles ( 34 ° 3 ′ 13.4 ″  N , 118 ° 18 ′ 3.5 ″  W ), which at on the corner of San Marino and Irolo Streets. The movement, founded by children and young people, was initially seen as an attempt to protect oneself against the violence of the prevailing gangs, but it increasingly hardened the experience on the streets. The number 13 has, in addition to the indication of the 13th Street ( 34 ° 2 '0.3 "  N , 118 ° 19' 55"  W ), which is in the present field of MS-13, also belonging to the Sureños out . This means that the gang comes from southern California or Los Angeles. A general distinction is made between the gangs of the Norteños - from northern California - and the gangs of the Sureños. Most of the time, these gangs are enemies because of their different affiliations. The initial intention to protect oneself through the gang was soon replaced by offensive violence. The main reasons for this were poverty, unemployment, discrimination and thus the low future prospects of the refugees in the USA.

As part of the USA's zero tolerance strategy , young people from abroad who had committed criminal offenses were deported to their home countries for the smallest offenses . In the mid-1990s, thousands of young people were deported to their Latin American home countries. Some of the expelled young people joined the predominant maras in Latin America or founded their own maras. The number of members of the Mara Salvatrucha multiplied within a very short time. At the same time, the maras became “Americanized”, meaning that the style of clothing, the use of language and the way in which the mara itself was managed were copied from and copied from the American models.

The reasons for the emergence of today's maras lie mainly in the social, political and historical areas of the respective countries. Although progress has been made in many Latin American countries in the 21st century, the poverty rate is still high. In 2013 there were around 400,000 Honduran, one million Salvadoran and 1.2 million Guatemalan migrants in the USA.


Field of activity

States with the presence of “Mara Salvatrucha” gangs High , low

The supporters of this group are mostly male, between 11 and 40 years old and come from Latin America ( Ecuador , Guatemala , Bolivia , El Salvador, Honduras , Mexico and Venezuela ). The gang earns their money with arms trafficking , prostitution , drug trafficking , pushing cars , human trafficking , theft and the collection of road tolls in their area. Much of everyday life is shaped by fighting the enemy maras, especially the Mara 18. The MS-13 has now built up a network that covers the entire American continent. In addition to Latin America and the USA, members of the MS-13 also operate in Canada and increasingly in Mexico. There are repeated violent attacks against the police and private security forces on the streets.


The maras consist in the lowest level of the so-called clikas , depending on the estimate, these consist of ten to 70 members. The clika is the first reference point of the Marero. The clikas usually control streets and neighborhoods, and possibly even entire cities. In most cases there is a leader at the top. In El Salvador this is known as palabrero and in Honduras as big palabra . There are also maras in which leadership is limited in time and changes constantly. Most clikas are very closely connected to the street district or their area and refer to it as a barrio.



The name is composed of Mara , whereby the word "Mara" is used colloquially for gang or gang and originally comes from the ant species Marabunta ( wandering ants ) of the genus Ecitonae. This ant species suddenly invades an area and destroys everything that lies on its way; Salva (for Salvadorans) and trucha ( Spanish slang word for "vigilant"). Salvatrucha is also often translated simply as "Salvadoran gang".

Identification mark

The tattoo shows belonging to the gang

Members usually have a tattoo that includes the letter "M" or the letters "MS" . But tattoos have also been seen on which "Salvadorian pride" could be read and the number 13 , as 13 can be assigned to the letter "M" in the alphabet - it also appears in many other South American gangs. The tattoos help to separate oneself from the hostile maras and the majority society. A tattoo in the form of a tear usually stands for the number of murders carried out by the respective member or for the death of a Mara member friend. In general, tattoos with the words "vida loca" are also used, which stands for the crazy life within the Mara. To delimit a district or street block controlled by the Mara, graffiti in the form of an MS sign or the like is used, which suggests that it belongs to the Mara Salvatrucha. Another distinguishing feature is the hand greeting: an "M" shaped with the fingers that points downwards.

State intervention

Most government measures to combat the maras can be summarized under the "policy of the hard hand" (Manos Duras). Prevention and reintegration measures are only implemented to a limited extent by the Central American states. The “hard-hand policy” can largely be derived from the American zero tolerance strategy. In the USA, criminal foreign members of a gang are deported to their home countries for the smallest offenses.


Honduras was the first Latin American country to take action to combat the maras. In the inaugural address of Honduran President Ricardo Maduro , he spoke out in favor of a zero tolerance policy towards criminals. First, the neighborhoods were systematically searched for Mara members using thousands of police officers. Since August 2003, the state's repressive measures have been expanded under the “Operation Freedom” ( Operación Libertad ) campaign. Young people who only have a tattoo of a mara are arrested. Also in August 2003, the so-called “Anti-Mara Law” was passed. Juveniles who can be proven that they belong to a Mara can be sentenced to prison terms of nine to twelve years. In December 2004 the maximum sentence was set at 30 years. On January 27, 2005, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales became the new President of Honduras. He promised to create a training program for the social integration of members of the Mara Salvatrucha gangs as well as to increase the police force.

In June 2009, 18 imprisoned members of Mara 18 broke out of prison in San Pedro Sula . The criminals, some of whom were convicted of murder, dug a 15-meter-long tunnel into a neighboring house, which was brought under their control by a dozen other Mara 18 members. They managed to escape with the vehicles provided. Two of the fugitives were involved in the kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Edwin Palacios. The brother of the England football player Wilson Palacios was kidnapped in Honduras in 2008. The kidnappers demanded a ransom from the Honduran international. Finally, Edwin Palacios was found dead in a village in May 2009.

El Salvador

In El Salvador, crackdown on the maras has become an integral part of the country's election campaign policy. On July 22, 2003, President Flores announced the Mano Dura (Hard Hand) plan, which passed the new Anti-Mara (Ley Antimaras) law. Here, the maximum sentence for membership in a Mara is set at five years in prison and criminal juveniles from the age of twelve are treated as adults. According to this law, membership in a mara can be traced back to the outward appearance - tattoos - of the young people. However, most of the judges in El Salvador do not apply the law for lack of proportionality with the country's constitution.

In 2010, Security Minister Henry Campos launched another legislative initiative that punishes membership of the Maras with several years in prison. In response, the Mejicanos massacre occurred on June 20, 2010 in Mejicanos, a suburb of San Salvador, in which four members of the Maras stopped a bus, shot the passengers and finally set the bus on fire. 14 people were killed. The law went into effect in September 2010, prompting the Maras to call a transportation strike that cost the trade $ 40 million in three days.


In Guatemala , the fight against the Mara plays only a subordinate role politically. President Alfonso Portillo initiated the "Plan Escoba" (Plan Besen) in early August 2003. This is strongly based on the plan of the Mano Dura of El Salvador. In addition to the Escoba plan, various bills were implemented to intensify the persecution of the Mara. In contrast to the other Latin American countries, the army is used in Guatemala. The state rarely takes preventive measures.

United States

On July 13, 2017, ICE officers transferred an MS-13 gang member to the police in El Salvador.

Operation Matador in June 2017 arrested 45 gang members in the New York City area, including 39 of the MS-13, two Sureños, a member of the 18th Street Gang, one of the Latin Kings , one of the Los Niños Malos and one of the Patria .

Appearance in movies

  • The gang made a brief appearance in the 2001 film Training Day .
  • Some of the main characters in the film Sin Nombre (2009) represent gang members of the Mara Salvatrucha in the Mexican state of Chiapas . Many of the depictions shown correspond to the actual rituals of the gang.


  • Sebastian Huhn, Anika Oettler and Peter Peetz: Different, threatened and threatening - youth gangs in Central America; in: Daniela Klimke (HG.), Exclusion in der Marktgesellschaft, Wiesbaden 2008, pp. 159–171

Web links

Commons : Mara Salvatrucha  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Kemp, Ross: Ross Kemp on Gangs, episode: El Salvador, broadcast on Sky One
  2. Josef Oehrlein: Proud of every single murder. In: July 1, 2005, accessed September 4, 2019 .
  3. ^ Pablo Kummetz: Latin America: Poverty remains. In: February 2, 2015, accessed November 26, 2019 .
  4. Guy Taylor, Stephen Dinan: Violence surges in Central America, threatening new refugee flood. In: Washington Times online . January 10, 2016. Retrieved July 16, 2017 (American English).
  5. The 2016 US budget increased funds to improve living conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to US $ 750 million .
  6. Honduras: 18 prisoners escaped from prison through tunnels. In: June 18, 2009, accessed May 1, 2019 .
  7. A través de un tunnel se fugan mareros en SPS. In: June 17, 2009, archived from the original on June 21, 2009 ; Retrieved September 2, 2017 (Spanish).
  8. Toni Keppler: From the youth gang to the mafia - The power of the maras. In: . January 29, 2011, accessed September 30, 2019 .
  9. ^ South Texas ICE officers remove Salvadorian man wanted for aggravated homicide. In: US Department of Homeland Security, July 13, 2017, accessed September 2, 2017 (American English).
  10. Operation Matador nets 39 MS-13 arrests in last 30 days. In: Department of Homeland Security, June 14, 2017, accessed November 10, 2017 .