They call themselves army and come from Latin America. They are the pandillas (from Spanish bande), gangs of latinos, terrorising the streets of many cities, where they are installed, from America to Europe. Milano, for example, has been invaded by Latin-American gangs as reported by the British newspaper The Independent. Without any doubt, La Mara Salvatrucha or MS13 is one of the most famous and bloody of these gangs. Homicides, rapes, extorsions, illegal commerce of drugs, aggressions carried out using machetes are just a couple of the activities of this group. This band, defined by the FBI as the “most dangerous gang of the world”, since years, this band has been continuing to be at the centre of the criminal reports because of the violence of the committed crimes. In Italy, Mara has come back to the limelight after the aggression against two railwaymen, injured by machetes by three members of this group.
The Origin of the Pandillas
The band La Mara Salvatrucha was founded in the 80ies in California, when the Civil War in Salvador forced many young people to escape to the United States. These immigrants are not integrated, marginalized and jobless. They started to meet in groups, focussing on the ethnic connection as their highest value. The marginalisation pushed them to violence and drugs. After the end of the conflict in Salvador, the US-government started to adapt zero tolerance policies against immigrants. This trend started with the application of the IIRIRA in 1996. These young people were arrested and deported to their country of origin. In a country, in the middle of an economic crisis and destroyed by years of conflict, like Salvador, these bands found their fertile ground to go on with their criminal activities. Soon, because of expulsions, deportations and migrations, the gangs diffused and became a real plague. Today, the gang Mara Salvatrucha is considered to be a criminal organisation based in Salvador, with solid roots in other countries, among others in the United States, Canada, Spain, and also in Italy.
Mara Salvatrucha: etymology of the name
There are numerous theories about the origin of the name MS13. According to a first hypothesis, the name of this gang means “group of smarts Salvadorians”. In their language in fact the name Mara means group, crowd. The term Salvatrucha, however, is made of two parts: salva defines the origin (El Salvador) and trucha means smart, straight. It cannot be excluded that the word Mara is the abbreviation of Marabunta, a particular kind of aunt, which is very savage and devours everything on its path. This definition reflects the way of acting of the affiliates of this gang. Salvatrucho could also mean “young Salvadorian fighter”. So, you could deduce that Mara Salvatrucha may also mean “aunt of the Salvadorian Army”.
Actually, El Salvador is considered to be one of the most dangerous countries of the world because of the number of murders, committed by this bloody gang. In Latin America the gangs still dictate standards. According to the newspaper La Opiniòn ,every day 300 Salvadorians leave their country to escape from the Maras. The MS13 is one of the main reasons for the high levels of violence in the country. This gang mainly consists of young poor guys and marginalized young people who consider the gang as their family they have to be ready to do all for. To be part of the gang, the guys have to succeed at tests of courage: The men must undergo a group beating, and the girls a rape. Without any doubt, the machete is the arm characterising this gang, while the tattoos indicate the belonging to the band. They kill since a very young age just for the fun to kill, but also to control the territory and because of settlings of accounts with the gangs of their rivals. In Milan for example in 2008 a football game of Salvadorians degenerated into a clash, using machetes, between the members of the MS13 and the Mara 18.
MS13, Never-Ending Violence
The territory of Salvador continues to be the scene of guerrillas and death between gangs. The truce between the two main gangs, MS13 e M18, reached in 2016 thanks to the support by the Catholic Church, did not solve this plague. According to Paolo Lisi, the responsible for the section of Foreign Criminality of the State Police, in Italy the first data related to the pandillas go back to 2004, but the situation has become very dangerous only after the arrival of the MS13. Despite of the numerous arrests of members of the gang by the Italian Police, Mara continues to live and gain strength.
The essential aspect of the development of this gang is missing integration. For many the Pandilla is a family which should never be betrayed, and, at that point, loyalty becomes something fundamental. While in Italy there are voices calling for the intervention of the army to oppose to this phenomenon, in Salvador the situation is out of control. The Mara Salvatrucha is considered so dangerous that some prisons are totally self-managed by gang members. Without a prevention program, interventions in the social area, and a decisive governmental action, Latin America continues to be a place where life is characterised by blasts of mitres and machetes, and the affiliates of the MS13 gang will continue to develop and diffuse, all pursuing one and the same destiny: prison or death.
Translation by Milena Rampoldi