Crime And Criminals Blog - Crimes, criminals, scams and frauds.

Monday, September 11, 2006

US Street Gangs - Mara Salvatrucha

Mara Salvatrucha is a predominantly Central American member gang started in Los Angeles, California with major centers of operation based in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and the United States, particularly California and Washington, D.C..

The gang was founded by childhood friends Julio Cesar and Ernesto "Smokey" Miranda . It was started when these two were in their youth, around 11 and 12 years old. The gang formed in the Rampart area of Los Angeles where Mexican-American gangs would prey on Salvadoran immigrants who came to the U.S. escaping the Salvadoran civil war. MS' goal was to protect themselves from the 18th St. gang, which is their main rival.

ms-13 bampots

The word mara means gang in "Caliche", Salvadoran Slang, and is taken from "marabunta", the name of a local type of ant known for its fierce behavior and defense of the colony. "Salvatrucha" is a portmanteau of Salvadoran and trucha (literally trout) a local Salvadoran-Spanish slang for being alert, vigilant, at the ready (usually entailing preparedness for crime, or abuse from police): "El significado de salvatrucha es ponerse listo, trucha, abusado". "Mara Salvatrucha" is also commonly translated as "Salvadoran Gang," identifying the gang's roots in guerilla-trained partisans within El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Members of this group control much of the rail and roadways in these areas, transporting contraband, weapons, illegals, and other cargo throughout the Americas. Although the MS13 has grown in population, it still is much smaller than the Mexican Mafia.

The gang's name is commonly abbreviated as MS-13, Mara, MS, and is composed of mostly Salvadorans. Its name suggests the meaning of "street-tough" in the Spanish language. At first the gang was called "MSS" (Mara Salvatrucha Stoners).When the gang first started, they were heavily into heavy metal and punk rock music genre but later adapted the "cholo" way of dress. Although the gang was made by Latinos, the gang now includes, some, but very few, African-Americans, and although rarely, Caucasian members. The age of a Mara Salvatrucha member can range from 8 to their late 30's. Though the gang is mostly made up of men and boys, some girls join the gang as well, although this is rare. The gang originated among Salvadoran immigrants living in Los Angeles but it has since spread to other parts of North America. It has spread to 33 US states. Other locations of "MS-13," activity are in Philadelphia, the NYC borough of Queens, and Tampa Bay. It emerged in the 1980s during El Salvador's violent civil war and is estimated as of 2005 to have 50,000 members in Central America and between 8,000 and 10,000 members in the United States.

Although founded among immigrants in the United States, Mara Salvatrucha now has a large presence in El Salvador. Much of this is due to the United States policy of deporting convicted criminals back to their country of origin. Back in El Salvador, these deportees have recruited more members, including new members who emigrate illegally to the United States.

The gangs have moved from beyond their Salvadoran, Mexican and Los Angeles origins and can be found in Belize, West Honduras, Guatemala, Canada, Mexico, and over 30 U.S. states, largely in Washington, DC in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, Carrollton, Texas and Long Island, New York. Some sets have even been founded in Spain, Italy, and Belgium. Not many of the founding members remain, and the original purpose of forming the MS-13 has become lost among the gang's criminal activities. Many original members belonged to left-wing insurgent groups and right-wing death squads who degenerated into criminal activity after the end of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992 and joined MS-13 for various reasons. Members of these various groups have training in firearms, explosives, and booby traps. A former female gang member, now deceased, stated that MS 13 is well structured, with multiple leaders. She also stated that MS' goal was to become the top latino gang in the United States. A 2004 report by the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center says chapters of Mara Salvatrucha in different areas may be trying to set up a coordination network. In 2005, police in Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., noticed an increase in the presence of the gang, including incidents of gang-related stabbings and other violence. Members are strongly encouraged to have tattoos to express their allegiance to Mara Salvatrucha. One of the two founders of MS-13 was shot 10 times and murdered in May of 2006 in his home in El Salvador. A few hours earlier he had declined an invitation to attend a party for a gang member who had just been released from prison. He had renounced violence but still had ties to the gang.


The gang is organized into "cliques" (e.g. the Marineros Clique from San Miguel) depending usually on the geographic location. Some of these cliques continue to spread into the areas around them.


There is little known about the hierarchy of MS 13. However, higher-ranking members are frequently turned on and killed, which is why not many of the founding fathers remain.

Gang markings

Mara Salvatrucha members have tattoos on most of their upper body, including the arms and face, with lettering done in Gothic (Blackletter) style. The "MS" and "13" is always tattooed on them. (This has resulted in the arrest and detention of many people, first in Honduras then in El Salvador for illicit association based entirely on the fact that they are wearing tattoos associated with gang membership.) Other tattoos include also the comedy and tragedy faces are claimed as the phrase "laugh now cry later" always with the smiling one up and to the right of the crying face, but this image is also popular with all latino gangs, three dots on the left hand (between index and thumb), and lastly the letters "M" and "S" on either top eyelid (a more blunt symbol). A shaved head with a goatee beard is also popular. A crooked-finger "M" sign, often detailed in skeletal fingers, is also a popular MS-13 sign.

A menagerie of tatoos (including the ones previously stated) sometimes cover the whole body, including the arms, legs, chest, and even face, while more subtle members only tattoo it on the neck. Unofficial colors usually consist of black, tan, desert camoflauge, and brown.


One of the ways in which the MS 13 has grown and spread has been through United States deportation policy. The United States has a law allowing for the deportation of non-citizens convicted of felonies to their country of origin. Salvadoran members of MS 13 were and are deported to El Salvador, where they recruit more members. Because of the meager wages provided by prisons, many jail guards in El Salvador are easily corrupted through bribes, or are forcefully coerced to release the recently deported MS 13 members.MS-13 members who are deported to El Salvador from Los Angeles are idolized by the youth there and are fascinated by the newly deported gang members.

Organized Crime

MS does business in illegal immigrant trafficking over the border (the Spanish term for those who do this is coyote), as well as carrying drugs, weapons, and other munitions. Many members in the United States have been illegally smuggled into the country. Gang leaders often beat up young men and boys until they join. When law-abiding citizens in Central America refuse to join this gang, Mara Salvatrucha usually indirectly threatens them by damaging property with their various gang signs. In extreme cases, assaults and/or murders can result, particularly in government officials who refuse to pay taxes to the leaders. (These murders usually take place at night, which is why police forces set a curfew for standard citizens). MS also does business in narcotics, arms dealing, prostitution, theft, and robbery. Recently in June 2006 a report out of California confirmed that for a member to be sworn into the gang the member would have to assault or even kill a female. In Central America, the killing of a member of a rival gang such as Mara 18 is often used.

Sometimes, the business varies in region. A member on the West Coast might be arrested for hijacking a car while members on the East Coast are captured for gang-on-gang violence, maybe due to rivalries with Mexican and other Hispanic groups.

MS-13's well-coordinated communications network allows a member to request assistance from another member from outside of their area. If a member in Florida is harassed or angered, they may call on fellow Maras from California to come to Florida and kill or maim the target of their anger - often targeting family and friends of the target as well, in order to drive the point home. Because the enactors of these attacks then leave the area and return to their normal grounds, law enforcement efforts at perpetrator identification yield few clues. The active participants are unknown and not seen in the same area again, while multi-state distribution of sketches or photos may not even reach the enactors' home state. The combination of mobility and communication complicate law enforcement efforts dealing with members of MS-13.

False rumored ties with Al-Qaeda

Law enforcement throughout the United States began to crack down hard on MS-13 after it was rumored that members of the international Islamic terrorism group Al-Qaeda (القاعدة) had been in secret talks with members of MS-13 in Honduras and in Washington D.C..

After thorough investigation, the FBI has found no evidence that any links between Al-Qaeda and MS-13 exist.


  • Mexican Mafia
  • 18th St Gang -- MS-13 members always attack 18th Street gang members. It is the chief rival of the gang in El Salvador as well as in Los Angeles. This rivalry stems from the expansion of MS and 18th Street-during the crack epidemic of the 90's- to control as much drug territory as possible. Some rumors say, the only reason 18th Street grew so fast was because it had to, with the support of the Mexican Mafia, stem off the control of MS and its unbelievable growth, due to membership from Central American immigrants.
  • Florencia 13 gang
  • 38 st gang
  • Sureños
  • Bloods
  • Crips
  • Sombra Negra
  • Ernesto "Smokey" Miranda, a co-founder of the MS in Los Angeles, left the gang and was helping children to stay out of gangs. [1]. He was gunned down on May 16, 2006, outside of his home in El Salvador.
  • In March 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a crackdown on MS-13. 103 individuals were arrested in seven cities.
  • In August 2005, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that gangs are "a threat to our homeland security and [...] a very urgent law enforcement priority." Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 1,057 gang members, 582 of whom are members of MS-13.
  • In September 2005, a two-day sting involving more than 6,400 government agents from the United States, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico produced the arrests of close to 660 members of MS-13.
  • US Border Patrol
Gangs: Stories of Life and Death from the Streets


Post a Comment

<< Home