The Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) is the hemisphere’s largest, most formidable and increasingly its most sophisticated street gang. This ongoing investigative series tackles its evolution from various perspectives.

About this Project

These reports are the result of field work done for a multi-year research initiative evaluating the transnational criminal capacity of the MS13 in the US and El Salvador by InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American & Latino Studies, with funding from the National Institute of Justice.

Investigation Chapters

MS13 Violence: Method or Madness?

There is a telling section in the indictment of alleged MS13 members filed by El Salvador’s Attorney General’s Office as part of Operation Jaque. It comes on page 223 of the 1,355-page accusation against the gang’s leadership in that country. The accusation says authorities tape recorded a gang meeting on February 21, 2016. In attendance…

MS13: Hierarchy vs. Federation

On December 13, 2015, MS13 gang leader Edwin Mancía Flores, alias “Shugar,” made a phone call from a prison in El Salvador. On the other end of the line was José Martínez Castro, alias “Chucky,” the head of what the gang hierarchy refers to as the “East Coast Program.”

MS13 Gang Truce: Social vs. Criminal Capital

Dany Balmore Romero García was sitting in class at a vocational college in El Salvador when he got a message from a friend. On the news, they were saying the US Treasury Department had included him on its Kingpin List, calling him a leader of the MS13. (United States Treasury Department, 2016) It was February…

MS13 in the Americas: Major Findings

The Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) is one of the world’s largest and arguably most violent street gangs. After relatively humble beginnings in Los Angeles in the 1980s, it has spread to more than a half-dozen countries and become a central focus of law enforcement in two hemispheres. In spite of these efforts, the MS13 remains a…