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The lack of political and economic development in the countries where MS-13 operates has also helped to keep the mara entrenched in local culture (Bruneau, 2005). Without adequate jobs and economic activity, even the most talented of individuals is made vulnerable to outside gang and organization influences. In many towns and villages, MS-13 is the only form of economic and political stability, and therefore is very hard to root out and eliminate. Combined with the fact that many of the economies of Central American countries are built around outside competition and the fact that the political and military elite are often very corrupt, MS-13's continued presence is easily understood. No Central American country has yet developed a strategy for dealing with MS-13 (Bruneau, 2005). The Central American context in which the MS-13 organization thrives is quite easily identified, but very hard to change.
"In sum, the political institutions are new, democratic legitimacy is problematic, the countries are poor, social problems huge, the military are supposed to be out of domestic roles and missions, and the police are inadequate. And, the rule of law, with all of the bases in law, enforcement, and the judicial system, remains tentative. This is the context within which the maras, and their significance for national security, must be assessed." (Bruneau, 2005)
These maras represent a way of life and a way of social order. Without other, more honest forms of social order, a power vacuum results, and MS-13 is quick to come in and take control.
The only logical way to fight back against MS-13 and other narco-terrorist organizations is through sustained economic and political development. This development would need to incorporate the needs of the local peasants, workers, farmers, and citizens, and would act to destroy the economic narcotics power base held by MS-13 (Fishel and Grizzard, 2005). The citizens of affected countries need to be given alternatives to maras, and the political and military structures need to be rethought as well. Political corruption, which in a big way enables MS-13 to exist, must also be eliminated (Bruneau, 2005). Citizens need to feel empowered by the laws and regulations of their country, and they need to feel protected by their own law enforcement organizations and military so as to not feel as though they need to look to organizations like MS-13 for support and personal protection. Certainly these are nearly insurmountable tasks, and it will likely take decades of economic, political, educational, and cultural development to successfully combat the deep-rooted trust and sense of security that MS-13 provides its members. A change in the perception of MS-13 by local citizens needs to occur as well (Bruneau, 2005). The MS-13 group is now officially considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, and many South American governments (Manwaring, 2008). Until more people are properly educated, and MS-13 is seen as for the terrorist organization that it truly is by the local villagers who turn to the organization for protection and financial stability, there can be no change in the way people fight against MS-13 and other similar maras.
By eliminating narcotic trafficking, law enforcement officials would successfully destabilize MS-13's economic structure. The organization works within the context of black markets and illegal smuggling operations. If the roots of these operations are eliminated, the entire chain of distribution will also be destroyed. Much of the market for narcotics is found inside the United States. U.S. law enforcement officials can go much to fight MS-13 abroad through operations on U.S. soil and on the Mexico-U.S. And Canada-U.S. borders.
Arana, Ana. (2005). "How the Street Gangs Took Central America." Foreign Affairs Vol 84. pp. 98
Bruneau, Thomas C. (2005). "The Maras and National Security in Central America." Strategic Insights, Volume 4 Issue 5; Dated: May 2005.
Castro, Alvi J. (2005). "Mara Salvatrucha Street Gang: An International Criminal Enterprise with Roots in El Salvador's Civil War." Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security Document.
Fishel, John T. And Grizzard, Mary. (2005) "Countering Ideaological Support to Terrorism in the Circum-Caribbean." UCLA Chicano Research Studies Center Journal, Volume 3; Dated: May 2005.
Manwaring, Max G. (2008). "Gangs and Other Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCO's) as Transnational Threats to National Security and Sovereignty." United States Army TCO Publication (Government Document). Accessed online at
Roorda, Tim and Hughbank, Richard J. (2008). "Threat Convergence: MS-13 and al-Qaeda's Deadly Potential to Attack America, Again." Homeland Defense Journal, Volume:5 Issue:12; Dated: December 2007/January 2008. pp 30-33.…[continue]
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