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Central American Gangs and Transnational Criminal Organizations

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by Douglas Farah, Pamela Phillips Lum
Published on February 24th, 2013

On October 11, 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) a significant transnational criminal organization (TCO). The gang was targeted for its involvement in “serious transnational criminal activities, including drug trafficking, kidnapping, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder, assassinations, racketeering, blackmail, extortion and immigration offenses.”

The designation, which came as a surprise to Central American governments, has caused considerable debate within the U.S. policy and law enforcement communities over whether the step was merited and whether it would, or could, have a significant impact.

This report attempts to offer some insights into those questions at a time when the gangs themselves are in a tremendous state of flux and interacting in new ways amongst themselves and with regional governments. This is particularly true in El Salvador, the spiritual homeland of the MS-13. Relying primarily on original fieldwork, the report examines the relationship of the MS-13 and Calle 18 gangs to the transnational criminal networks that are growing in strength and sophistication across Central America, particularly in the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Read the full report here: Download file Central American Gangs and Transnational Criminal Organizations.

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