MS-13 gang makes US ‘criminal organization’ list

Mara Salvatrucha, the Salvadoran street gang that got its start in the heart of Los Angeles' Koreatown, has been officially designated by federal authorities as a "transnational criminal organization." MS-13, as it's also known, "is being 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 US Department of the Treasury stated. That means the federal government can use "economic sanctions" against the gang, which has also established a foothold in El Salvador. The designation gives the Treasury Department the power to freeze any financial assets from the gang or its members and prohibits financial institutions from engaging in any transactions with members of the group. 

Los Angeles police say they have had their hands full with an outbreak of violence on MS-13's home turf, citing a recent spate of shootings in the Koreatown area where the gang was born in the 1980s when war refugees from El Salvador flooded the community. According to the LAPD, Hoover Street  is a local dividing line between MS-13 and their rivals, the 18th Street gang. The LAPD's elite Violent Crimes Task Force has been dispatched to the area.

But in El Salvador, Security Minister David Munguía Payés said a "truce" was in effect between MS-13 and its local rivals, and he hoped that it would not be impacted by the organization's new designation. He emphasized that the MS-13 leaders in El Salvador "are not people who have great quantities of money." (LA Weekly, LA Weekly, LAT, El Comercio, DC, Oct. 12) 

  1. Etymology of MS-13

    A Nov. 20 BBC Radio special report on the truce in El Salvador between MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang—after a long war that started in LA's Ramparts district and spread back to Central America—provides the following etymology of "Mara Salvatrucha":

    Also abbreviated as Mara, MS-13 or MS, there are conflicting versions of how the Mara Salvatrucha got their name—a common explanation is that 'Mara' means 'gang' in Spanish, 'Salva' for El Salvador, and 'trucha' is a slang word meaning 'stay alert'.

    The truce was brokered in a series of secret meetings with both gangs' leaders in El Salvador's prisons, by a Catholic bishop and a former FMLN guerilla commander. The truce has been in place for over nine months now, and the murder rate has fallen to around five a day—a dramatic result. The Salvadoran government insists it "facilitated," not "negotiated" the truce.

  2. Gang truce extends to Honduras
    Following in the footsteps of their counterparts in neighboring El Salvador, Honduras’ two largest and most violent gangs announced a truce last month, and appealed for a dialogue with the government and police. The deal follows a dialogue between the Mara Salavatrucha and 18th Street gangs brokered by San Pedro Sula’s bishop, Romulo Emiliani. “The government has been informed and it should be the next to join the dialogue,” said Emiliani. (AP, May 25)