The street gang MS-13 first materialized on the streets Los Angeles in the 1980s . Bands of Salvadoran teen immigrants who escaped the horrors of a civil war in their own country became caught up in the violent street life of the time in LA, creating their own gang to compete in the unavoidable turf wars. The notorious narco-terrorist organization went international due to increased deportations of undocumented migrant criminals back to El Salvador under both Californian and federal policies in the 90s. The gang members may have been detained in the United States, but ran free in Central America, reorganizing themselves and exploiting overwhelmed law enforcement agencies and corrupted government officials. MS-13 solidified themselves as a key component of the international drug trade coming through Central America. To this day, the gang remains prominent in Central America, committing acts of violence against communities, trafficking migrants, and funneling drugs across international borders.
MS-13 recently captured international news yet again for raiding a criminal court case in Honduras in order to free powerful gang leader Alexander Mendoza. During the hearing, a group of around eleven heavily armed men entered the courthouse wearing security uniforms, as caught on surveillance. The gun battle that ensued injured three Honduran officers and killed four. One of Mendoza’s liberators was killed during the operation. Honduran government officials have made public statements following the event claiming that Mendoza, along with every MS-13 member involved in the violent operation will be arrested and brought to justice. These words feel empty to Honduran citizens however, who must face the harsh reality of another lethal gang member evading detainment once again.
Violent criminal organizations like MS-13 continue to delegitimize fragile states such as Honduras and El Salvador. Millions of Central Americans live in fear from these gangs and lack confidence in the ability of their governments to protect citizens, as law enforcement officials are outmanned and outgunned on many occasions. Transnational street gangs such as MS-13 contribute to the increasing number of asylees who are seeking refuge in surrounding countries like Mexico and the United States on the grounds of being fearful for their lives. The operation that liberated Alexander Mendoza is the latest example of the undeniable power and presence of violent gangs such as MS-13 in Central America that continue to pose a threat to the security of the entire region.