Sunday, August 19, 2007

MS-13, Reagan & that damn cold war...

Any-hoo, officer #1 bummed a smoke and continued sharing with us this delightful factoid, there's been a surfacing by MS-13 in downtown. If you don't know who they are, stop reading now because you're blissfully ignorant and I recommend carrying on that way. If you do know who they are then you know that MS-13 is nothing you want any part of. MS-13 stands for Mara (army ant, also La Mara a street in San Salvador) Salvatrucha (Salvadoran + alert) - 13 from a merger with the Mexican Mafia. The Salvatrucha are one of the deadliest gangs at least on the continent. Likely in the world. They are a local born gang traced to the Pico-Union/ Rampart neighborhood two decades ago - but really born out of a bloody civil war that the US was on the wrong side of.

The El Salvadoran civil war raging in the early 1980's and which killed a reported 70,000 Salvadorans and sent thousands of Salvadoran immigrants north over the border, was only exacerbated by the election of President Reagan in 1980. Prior to 1979, El Salvador was ruled by Carlos Humberto Romero and his military government. Romero had succeeded Colonel Arturo Armando Molina two years earlier; both Molina and Romero ran "de facto" military dictatorships, deeply repressive and violent to the citizens of El Salvador. Romero was overthrown in 1979 in a reformist coup. For 2 years resistance groups struggled against the military. By 1981, five Salvadoran revolutionary resistance groups had organized with several guerrilla groups in El Salvador and established the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion or FMLN) and began to maintain control of key strongholds. In August of 1981, France and Mexico officially recognized the FMLN and their political legitimacy.

The inauguration of Reagan changed everything. The administration's Cold War outlook oriented their empathy not with the leftist rebels. but with a military government that looked more likely to crack down on an communist insurgencies. As a result. the Reagan administration sent aid to the El Salvadoran military, the civil war raged on for another decade, backed by US resources in "a conflict reportedly fueled by billions of dollars in aid from the United States government". It wasn't until 1989 and the brutal murder of six Jesuit priests a housekeeper and a young girl that the international community intervened. Massachusetts Congressman Joe Moakely was tasked, by then Speaker Tom Foley, with heading a congressional task force into US foreign policy in El Salvador. Moakley was horrified by what he discovered and felt the Reagan administration was deeply dishonest about the status of the war in El Salvador. Congresional aid James McGovern wrote: "The United States did not cause the war in El Salvador. But our policy did help prolong a war that cost tens of thousands of innocent lives. Had we used our influence earlier to promote a negotiated settlement, many might have survived. We in the United States need to acknowledge that fact. In particular, our leaders need to acknowledge that fact. There was an arrogance about U.S. policy that rationalized, explained away and even condoned a level of violence against he Salvadoran people that would have been intolerable if perpetrated against our own citizens."

Finally the United Nations sponsored talks in 1992 to broker a landmark peace accord that has largely been honored to this day. A quote from Reinaldo Figueredo of the UN Truth Commission lays the foundation for a country reeling from violence: "In examining the staggering breadth of the violence that occurred in El Salvador, the Commission was moved by the senselessness of the killings, the brutality with which they were committed, the terror that they created in the people, and in other words the madness, or locura, of the war."

Ultimately, it was the influx of immigrants from the civil war that sent thousands of Salvadorans into Los Angeles and specifically Mexican-American gang territory. As a result, the Salvadorans created their own gangs to defend against the already established Mexican gangs. Over time they aligned with the largest hispanic gang in the US the Los Surenos or Sur-13 upon doing so MS became MS-13. According to a 2005 Justice Department "threat assessment" report the MS-13 were reported "... in the jurisdictions of 145 law enforcement agencies across the country, although only 12.1 percent of respondents indicated that this gang had moderate to high activity. MS-13 was present in 31 states." The report continued... With growing numbers of undocumented persons in the region, investigators are seeing increases in Mexican and Central-American gangs in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. One of the more prominent gangs,MS-13 is recognized by investigators as the most fearless...MS-13 has also been found to be a serious threat in Massachusetts.This gang, with between 75 and 100 members in the state, has an affinity for excessive violence and little respect for law enforcement."

For their crimes many have been deported back to Central America resulting in recruitment from the major cities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Multinational by nature the gang is managed both by gang leaders in the US and in El Salvador -where they are considered highly organized and highly disciplined -, Honduras and Guatemala. They are not a trifling group. They are alleged to be the largest gang in Central America and credited with the kidnapping and assassination in 1997, of the Honduran President Ricardo Maduro. Newsweek called them, The Most Dangerous Gang in America and in
In December 2004, the FBI launched a multi-agency MS-13 National Gang Task Force - noted as the first of its kind. **Also check this story from the NY Times.

Not trying to be a fearmonger I swear. I have read about MS-13 a lot over the years and I thought it was time to understand them better...

A little more just about downtown...

All this talk of gangs got me on the website for a little research. I think for the most part downtown still looks pretty safe. I searched the LAPD crime maps for all reported crime within two miles of the Old Bank District over the last seven days and I found:
  • 7 counts of personal theft
  • 7 counts of theft from a vehicle
  • 8 aggravated assaults
  • 6 instances of grand theft auto (not the game btw there's probably more than 6 of those downtown)
  • 3 violent robberies
  • 3 burglaries
  • 0 rape
  • 0 homicide
I search the gang injunction maps and the funny thing is that downtown while is smack in the "central zone" which is home to among others - Big Hazard, Krazy Ass Mexicans, Varrio Nuevo Estrada, 38th St., 42nd Street Gangster Crips, Harpys, MS-13, 18th Street, Crazy Riders, Down In Action (DIA), Krazy Town (KTO), La Raza Loca, Orphans, Rockwood St. Locos, Varrio Vista Rifa, Wanderers, Witmer St. Locos - is basically gang-free. The closest gang presence is the MS-13 outline that runs from Olympic to the south to the 101 to the north and looks to be between Western to the West and Lucas to the East. I attribute this to the lack of housing downtown, mostly it's lofts, SRO's and high-rises. I am guessing the demographic of gangs requires more houses and apartment buildings, probably not a lot of gangbangers checking into the run down SRO's of Skid Row or the upturned lofts of the Toy District; only an educated guess, I'm no criminologist.

All that to say, I hope our new friends on the street beat are wrong about MS-13.


celia said...

wow, such a well-researched and comprehensive post. i wish our downtown news would cover stuff like this instead of an overabundance of real estate news. good stuff, looking forward to more from this blog!

Kim Jong said...

There was a great article in the Sunday New York Times yesterday (August 19th) about MS 13. Here is the link:

L.A. Resident said...

The only major gang which I know that claims any area downtown is the 18th street gang. You will always see there tag XV3 (roman numerals commonly used in gangs names) on the buildings on 9th and Hill and over and many buildings on Broadway street. The 18th street gang has a clicka (set or division) called 7th& Broadway clicka. This gang is also a sureno-13 gang i.e. allegiance to the Mexican Mafia, which really means they have to pay a tax on drug sales to the Mexican Mafia prison gang. This gang is the major drug dealer in the Hostess clubs, 907, La Palmas, Galaxy and also on the downtown streets.

The odd thing is that most Latino street gangs have an allegiance (pay drug tax) to the Mexican Mafia but have conflicts between each other, MS-13 and 18th are rivals. But in the prisons the Mexican Mafia is king of kings and controls Latino gangsters with an iron fist and fear.

If you want to know about street gangs resolve in Honduras, during Ex-President Maduro’s mano dura (heavy hand) campaign against street gangs see these articles. The president’s son was kidnapped and killed by gang members before he was president and he promised a “mano dura” against gangs if elected president.

celia said...

there are fresh tags on the santa fe loft building. they're on the backside, in the parking lot by the los angeles street side. couldn't make out a lot of them because there were cars parked against the wall, but i did see some 5th & hill tags. seems like they want to come back with a vengeance. check it out before they clean it up, it looks really bad. thankfully i've seen squad cars sitting in the parking lot late at night - usually when i walk through it.

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