The Gang Is So Ruthless It Made El Salvador the Murder Capital of the World
MS-13 is notorious for violence and brutality. The gang’s motto is “mata, viola, controla” or, kill, rape, control. Members don’t just do drive by shootings, they get personal, using machetes because they are cheaper and more savage than firearms.
“MS-13 glorifies violence above all else,” said Assistant US Attorney Julia Martinez. Martinez was involved in a case where a young man, Adoni Martinez Aguilar, was lured into a park in Washington DC by MS-13 members, stabbed repeatedly with knives and machetes, then decapitated. He owed them $600.
Along with rival gang Barrio 18, Mara Salvatrucha made El Salvador the murder capital of the world. The country’s homicide rate is 22 times that of the US. In the first few months of 2016, there was a murder every hour in the country. In 2015, there were 6,656 murders in El Salvador, the highest homicide rate in the world for a nation not at war.
MS-13 Is Preying on a Specific Community, Not the Country at Large
When confronted last week with audio obtained by ProPublica of wailing children separated from their parents, White House Communications Adviser Mercedes Schlapp said, “What’s very heartbreaking is to watch Americans who have lost their children because of the MS-13 gang members.” But the vast majority of MS-13 victims are young immigrants, many of them undocumented.
I often think about this when I’m out reporting. This year, I have reached out to current gang members and added them as friends on Facebook. I’ve visited the homes of people on the local clique’s kill list, and heard their police-issued panic buttons hum under tables and behind doors. I’ve explored the wooded areas Long Island police call “the killing fields,” where bodies have been found. I feel safe doing this because MS-13 rarely goes after true outsiders — people who are not friends with any gang members or targets for recruitment. The closest I’ve found in Long Island to a totally random victim was a worker at a Central American deli who was hurt when a bullet passed through the head of a targeted victim.
The White House put out a statement last month that described recent murders carried out by “MS-13 animals.” Lost in the controversy over whether it was OK to call gang members animals was the fact that of the six identified victims, five were immigrants and the other was a child of immigrants.
In 2016, MS-13 Members Went on a Killing Spree in Long Island
In October 2016, 35 MS-13 members were arrested in Long Island in relation to several killings in Brentwood, NY, most notably the murder of two teenage girls, 15-year-old Nisa Mickens and 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas. The girls were beaten to death, their bodies found 50 feet from each other, close to an elementary school. Timothy Sini, the Suffolk County police commissioner, said at least five of the people arrested were high-ranking MS-13 members. All told, six bodies discovered in Brentwood in just over a month.
“We’re in this for the long haul. Our goals are very clear: Solve the murders and eradicate this gang from Brentwood,” Sini said.
MS-13’s Brutal Rivalry with Barrio 18 Once Resulted in 16 Murders a Day for a Month
MS-13’s biggest rivalry is with the Barrio 18, or the 18th Street gang. The 18th street gang emerged in the late ‘60s as a faction of the Clanton 14 gang. They were a Mexican American gang in Los Angeles, but as the years went on accepted other Latin American nationalities. Their presence grew in Central America in the ‘90s as a result of the same deportations that affected MS-13.
MS-13 had a brief truce with 18th Street gang in 2013, but it dissolved after a year. This led to the deadliest month El Salvador had seen in over a decade; about 16 people were murdered every day. Some believe he truce was a cover that allowed the gangs to grow.
According to a former gang member interviewed for a Gangland documentary on Mara Salvatrucha, some of the immigrants streaming into the US from El Salvador had trained for and fought in the civil war they were fleeing. Because of this, they were completely unfazed by levels of violence that struck fear into the hearts of other gangs in Los Angeles, who were used to nothing more than street level skirmishes.
By way of example, the former MS-13 member cites fellow members walking up to rival gang affiliates and shooting them in the face, point blank, without blinking.
As MS-13 expands into illegal transnational ventures, the gang’s criminal activities have been tied to international terrorism. In her paper Mara Salvatruta: The Most Dangerous Street Gang in the Americas, Sonja Wolf notes that many Central American politicians, notably former El Salvador president Antonio Saca, support this theory.
As per these allegations, Mara Salvatrucha is believed to have ties to Al Qaeda. In 2004, Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah, a top Al Qaeda leader, was seen in Honduras meeting with high-ranking MS-13 members in order to seek assistance infiltrating the US through Mexico. In 2015, MS-13 was designated a terrorist group in their own right by the Salvadoran government.
Becoming a MS-13 member isn’t an easy task, and certainly not one for the faint of heart.
To become a “homeboy,” prospective members, or “chequos” have to murder a member of a rival gang. After that, senior members of the clique vote on whether the candidate is worthy. If the chequo gets enough votes, he has to submit to a brutal beating, during which he’s pummeled by members while they slowly count to 13. If he doesn’t get enough votes, sure was a waste murdering that rival gang member.
After becoming a member, small violations could lead to serious beatings, like being drunk in public or pulling out a gun. More serious violations, like failing to have your homie’s back, are punishable by death.