Saturday, July 29, 2017

Realtiy-based references on MS-13

Hearing about reality won't in itself convince anyone who has a favorite hatred, against black or Jews or Latinos or whoever.

But reality matters. "Sharia" is a slogan for Islamophobes (or Muslim-haters, if you prefer). But Sharia law is a real thing, whose reality has little resemblance to the fear fantasies about it in the US and Western Europe. (See my Varieties of Islāmic law post of 08/24/2010.) I would like to see a TV moderator ask someone ranting about Sharia if they are referring to the Maliki, Hanafi, Shafii, Hanbalite, Twelver Shi'a or Ibādite variety.

Trump's white supremacist hate slogan against Latinos, "MS-13" is a similar story. The gutter white right adopted it as a fear-and-hate word. There is a reality behind it, one that has nothing to do with most Latinos, immigrants to the US or otherwise.

The US Army's Military Review journal carried an analysis in 2006 (Steven C. Boraz and Thomas C. Bruneau, Are the Maras Overwhelming Governments in Central America? Nov-Dec 2006) about Central American gangs (maras Nov-Dec 2006). Boraz and Bruneau give this historical overview:

The maras emerged from conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua during the 1980s. Thousands of people fled north, including a large number of young men who had fought on the governments’ side or with the insurgents. Many of these young men went to Los Angeles, but because they were poorly educated, few were able to find work. In a city already structured in terms of gangs, their familiarity with guns and armed combat was their one advantage. Some were incorporated into such neighborhood gangs as the African–American Crips and Bloods; the Mexican-American, illegal-immigrant gang EME; and the Mexican Mafia. Some of the men, especially those from El Salvador, joined the multi-ethnic 18th Street Gang. Other Salvadorans founded the Mara Salvatrucha (Group of Smart, or savvy, Salvadorans) 13, or MS-13, to compete with the 18th Street Gang because they believed the Salvadorans in that gang were traitors. (The new gang gave itself the number 13, as in 13th Street, where many Salvadorans had settled.) As most of what the maras were (and are) involved in was criminal activity, they were arrested and put into prison, where they further defined their gang identities and honed their criminal skills. [my emphasis in bold]
This is another example of a familiar cycle of violence. Civil wars in Central American countries, actively encouraged and armed by the Reagan Administration. Reagan turned over Central American policy to neocons, who made the area their violent playground. Refugees came to the US, where for some of them it was difficult for them to integrate into society via legal channels. Some of them later return home to Central America and exacerbate criminal violence there.

Weston Phippin also describes that cycle in What Trump Doesn't Understand About MS-13 The Atlantic 06/26/2017.

Boraz and Bruneau describe MS-13 initiation rituals that were picked up in the plot of the Telemundo novela Bajo el mismo cielo (2015-6).

They describe the maras generally (not MS-13 alone) as a significant security problem in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Not that they refrain from some hair-raising descriptions: "Whole sections of cities, such as Guatemala City and Tegucigalpa, are under the control of maras, which, of course, fight each other for control of turf. When international organized crime employs maras, entire sections of countries, such as the Peten in Guatemala, slip from the state’s sovereign control."

But they distinguish those described threat level from the situation of Central American gangs in the US, speaking not just of MS-13:

To our knowledge, there is no credible evidence linking the maras to terrorism. This is clearly good news for the United States considering the ease with which gang members cross the borders into this country. Further, while the maras are a crime problem in cities across the United States, the situation in most of Central America is much more serious because of a lower level of economic development and the fragility of the new democracies and their institutions.
The following year, Military Review carried another article on the maras, this one by Federico Brevé, who served as the Honduran Minister of Defense 2002 to 2006, The Maras - A Menace to the Americas (July-Aug 2007). It mentions MS-13, as well, but its subject is the larger gang environment, and focuses on Central American issues.

This is a one-minute clip on MS-13 from CNN, MS-13: America's most dangerous street gang? 03/02/2017:

Here are some other news and commentary pieces on the real existing MS-13:

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