Sunday, September 06, 2009

Samuel Logan's This Is For The Mara Salvatrucha

I read This Is For The Mara Salvatrucha by Samuel Logan, who blogs at Security in Latin America. I was quickly sucked into the story of Brenda Paz, a teenager originally from Honduras who became involved with the MS-13. The book begins in Texas, but for the most part the events are in northern Virginia. Being present at a murder launches a sequence of events that eventually leads Brenda to make an effort to cooperate with police and leave the gang. The narrative moves quickly and smoothly, and especially since I did not know the outcome, I kept wanting to find out what happened to her. It is not a fun book, but is a very illuminating one.

One of the themes I found most interesting was that so many members, even very high up in the organization, were willing to work with the police after being arrested. Ironically, one member who was cooperating with police ordered the murder of another for the crime of cooperating with the police.

A troubling part of the conclusion, however, is that the gang learns from past experiences. The narrative takes place 4-6 years ago or so, and things have changed since. As Logan notes, the criminal enterprise has expanded, the gang is less reliant on tattoos (which makes them easier to spot) and they are becoming more business savvy.

Further, for so many people the gang is their only means of feeling human connection. It was extremely hard for Brenda to stay away from her friends, even though she knew it was very dangerous. She did not like being alone and had no one else to relate to. Getting people to commit to an entirely new life is a daunting task.

On a separate note, another critical issue is the fact that police cooperation with local Latino communities is essential for obtaining information. Programs like 287(g) make an already tricky situation that much harder. People with valuable knowledge are not likely to talk if they fear deportation.


leftside 12:18 PM  

It did not get much attention, but last week Nicaragua caught the "boss" of MS-13 - Saul Antonio Turcios Angel. They handed him over to Interpol over the weekend.

Also, a good companion piece to Logan's work in the States is the documentary "La Vida Loca" by the recently slain French filmaker Christian Poveda. What a tragedy...
His work was notable for not being afraid to point some blame at the true roots of these vicious Central American gangs - poverty, hopelessness, and (not least) US immigratiton policies.

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