Over the last two months, I have been detailing a new report from the think-tank InsightCrime on Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). I wanted to offer some of the recommendations from the report on responding to MS-13. You can read the full report here.
Focus on the most violent offenders. While the MS13 seeks to spread responsibility for its violent actions and encourages illustrations of “commitment,” there are still differences among them and those that seek a way to debilitate the power of the most violent members of their gang. Show those potential collaborators that you understand the gang, its dynamics and know who are the most egregious offenders.
Don’t look for a master plan. The MS13 does not have one all-powerful leader or hierarchy calling the shots. It has numerous power centers, which are dynamic. Cliques and programs surge then wane. Leaders grow powerful, then lose that power. None of this appears to be coordinated from any one location nor is it necessarily making for a more sophisticated gang. The gang is more organic than hierarchical. Treat it as such.
Look for entrepreneurs. We have been able to document various attempts by the gang to become a more integral part of the drug trafficking distribution chain. However, none of these have come to fruition, nor did they last for any extended time period. All these efforts were led by entrepreneurial members who used parts of the gang infrastructure as well as outside contacts to become players in
the international drug distribution market. If the gang is to transform itself into a transnational criminal organization, this is the profile of the leader that will do it.
Stop making the gang a political actor. Gangs are political in as much as we make them so. For different reasons, federal government responses to the MS13 have made it a political actor. In El Salvador, the government opened the door to a truce between the gangs, which gave them unprecedented political space and
protagonism. In the United States, the federal government has made the MS13 a center-point of its immigration policy, which has bolstered the gang’s image as the most feared gang in the region. The gang will take advantage of this political capital when it is handed to it.