Monday, December 12, 2011

T. Bruneau et al, eds., "Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America"

Thomas C. Bruneau is Distinguished Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School; Lucía Dammert is Executive Director of the Global Consortium on Security Transformation; Elizabeth Skinner is the think tank coordinator at NATO's Allied Command Transformation. They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America is in the last section of the Chapter by Joanna Mateo, “Street Gangs of Honduras” in which she deals with the impact of mano dura (heavy hand) policies by the government of Honduras against the street gangs, or maras. In this co-edited book the authors describe and analyze the phenomenon of the maras or street gangs and their impact on security in the four Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Originally founded in Los Angeles, California, in the 1980s, the main maras, the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and the 18th Street Gang, or Barrio – 18, were exported to Central America as illegal immigrants from the region were deported back to their countries of origin in the 1990s. These two maras quickly established themselves in these new, fragile, and impoverished democracies where they decimated other, less “modern” gangs. The gang members share certain bizarre features including tattoos, graffiti, and language. They are mainly characterized by their reliance on violence as they battle for control of turf and illegal commerce, which extends beyond the region to North America.

As governments have sought to deal with the maras, all but Nicaragua have implemented mano dura, or heavy handed, strategies, which violate human rights. They have also led to imprisoning the young gang members with hardened more senior members of the gangs and organized crime with the result that the mara members have become more organized and strategic in their thinking. Neither the three countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, nor the U.S. Government have come up with much more than repressive methods to respond to the gangs. These strategies have not been successful in that homicide rates have increased to an average of 63 per 100,000 population, among the highest in the world.

The ten chapters in the book include studies on the four main Central America countries, Los Angeles, California, sub-regional and regional comparisons, U.S. policies and programs, and the importance of intelligence in combating the maras. As the first book in English on this topic, the book seeks to provide a base line of information and analysis that other serious scholars might follow.
Learn more about Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue