The Truth About Central America’s Gangs

Many people talk about Central America’s gangs. Some US politicians claim that dangerous gang members are traveling in caravans from Honduras and pose a threat to the USA. But how did Central America’s gangs come to be? Why did they grow so big and become an organized criminal network? How did the Central American states allow this to happen? Do these gangs need to travel in a caravan to get into the USA?

Allow me to give you a brief history about Central America’s gangs. It turns out that these gangs were not born in Central America. As a matter of fact, they came to be in the USA! Yes, back in the 1970s and 80’s many Salvadorans were migrating to the USA to escape the civil war in that country. At the same time, many Mexicans were fleeing a crippling economic crisis in Mexico that sent the Mexican currency to unexpected lows. Both communities chose the city of Los Angeles in California as their destination within the USA. Of course, they moved into the poorer areas in the city. There they found that the local African American community did not welcome them.

The locals felt their territory and their way of life was under threat from these immigrants. They began a systematic war against the newcomers. Thus, the immigrants felt the need to join forces and defend themselves. Two groups came to be. One led by the Salvadoran migrants that came to be the Mara Salvatrucha. The other is the Barrio 18, that was led by the Mexican immigrants. The name comes from 18th street neighborhood, which is were the Mexicans lived. Thus, all three groups with different lifestyles came to be, each defending their own way of live. Their objective was survival. Of course, things got nasty, and eventually, many of the gang members were rounded up and deported back to their countries.

As you can see, these gangs are really a product of the USA and not from Mexico and Central America! Once they were back in their countries, they did what they knew how to do organize a gang and get involved in illegal activities. Over the years, gangs established themselves in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and the USA. Yes, many gang members are in the USA and coordinate illegal activities, including drug trafficking there.

Central America’s gangs have also taken over the traditional migrant route through Mexico. They target the poor Central American immigrants who are chasing the American dream. Because of this, there we see a shift in the migratory habits of Central Americans. They now prefer to travel in groups. There is certainly safety in numbers. Therefore, Central American immigrants following their quest for a better life are traveling in caravans and not alone.

But getting back to our topic, which is Central America’s gangs, I must say that they are not part of the current immigrant caravans. Rather, they are fighting the caravans, as they are attempting against one of their biggest businesses! This of course is about the possibility to extort the migrants or force them to work for them! These Central American Gangs operate within the USA. This is where they were born, and where they feel most at home! They send money and export expertise to their Mexican and Central American counterparts so that they may operate profitably. The good news from Honduras is that the fight against these gangs has made the country safer.

It is they who are forcing the local migrants to head north, and not the other way around! Incredibly, the threat comes from the north, not the south! And as long as we do not understand this reality, we are fighting a losing war! Central Americans are leaving Honduras due to a lack of opportunities. This is a far cry from an invasion into the USA by the gangs. The threat is not coming from abroad, but rather from within. If we do not understand this, all efforts to counter Central America’s Gangs will go awry. Simply because the root cause is not being addressed! The problem is within the United States of America Gangs!