From a small band of deportees forcibly returned from Los Angeles, the MS13 has grown into a hydra. It is at once a social circle that provides protection and belonging, an extortion powerhouse shaking down the rich and the poor, a parallel government regulating the daily lives of thousands.
This investigation, carried out over several years and featuring interviews with some of the most influential MS13 leaders, looks at how this transformation took place in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico and just how unstoppable the gang has become.
The MS13 has grown rich by controlling the way trash is collected and dumped in parts of Honduras.
When strolling through Las Margaritas, a neighborhood of over 15,000 people in the city of Soyapango, El Salvador, crossing paths with the MS13 is all but assured. There, almost all facets of daily life are linked to the gang in one way or another.
In this run-down neighborhood in Guatemala City, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) does not exist. And yet, there are still a host of emeeses, as the gang’s members are known.
MS13 members seeking to escape the gang’s strongholds in Central America, or disappear off the radar, often flee to Mexico.