This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Maras and Heavy Weaponry

Two stories in Central America surfaced late last week, suggesting that street gangs, aka "maras" or "pandilleros" in Spanish, have begun purchasing heavy weaponry.

Funds from extortions, kidnapping, and drug sales, have been used by maras in El Salvador to purchase at least two AK-47s, one M-16s, a G-3s, and even a light anti-tank weapon (LAW).

According to Oscar Bonilla, the director of El Salvador's National Council of Public Security, cited the arrest of five street gang members, and the seizure of their weapons (listed above), when discussing this trend.

The five gang members were arrested while transporting the arms police believe were to be used to attack a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, located about an hour from San Salvador. This is the prison that is thought to house a critical mass of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) senior members.

This news comes on the heels of a separate incident, where gang members used "heavy caliber rifles" and police uniforms to surprise and murder six individuals in the areas of Quezaltepeque and Kejapa, about 20 miles from San Salvador. Reminds me of what the Mexican organized criminals like to do - use police uniforms.

The articles rounded out the news with a few statistics:

In 2008, the economic costs of violence in Central America reached US$6.5 billion, or some 7.7 percent of Central America's combined GDP

During this time, businesses and families spent some US$1.2 billion to protect themselves

Between 90,000 and 100,000 gang members live in Mexico and Central America, many of them deported from the United States.

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