HomeNewsBriefCentral American ‘Maras’ Expanding in Spain: Govt
BRIEF

Central American ‘Maras’ Expanding in Spain: Govt

BARRIO 18 / 13 AUG 2013 BY MARGUERITE CAWLEY EN

Central American street gangs have established a presence in Spain and receive orders from their counterparts in Honduras and El Salvador, says the Spanish government, adding to fears these “maras” may become genuine transnational criminal actors.

According to a government report obtained by Spanish newspaper La Razon, the Barrio 18 and MS13 street gangs — known as “maras” — have been present in Spain since 2005, and could now use the country’s fragile economic situation to expand.

The report refers to the cells established in Spain as “pseudo-maras,” and says they are made up of gang members who have fled the hardline “iron fist” government policies in El Salvador and Honduras, and are now attempting to expand territorially from their new location.

Until now, the gangs have mostly been involved in isolated acts, included property crimes, knife violence, and inter-gang confrontations, says the report, but criminologist Ricardo Magaz said they are becoming “more and more violent” and have begun to profit from local drug distribution.

Sociologist Laura Etcharren said the maras had also begun associating with drug traffickers moving product through Spain — a jumping off point for cocaine distributed in Europe — and that the groups represented a “fusion between local and ‘imported’ crime.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Both the Barrio 18 and MS13 gangs have cells stretching from Central America to Canada. The United States recently sanctioned six MS13 leaders for charges including international drug trafficking, and last year designated the gang as a transnational criminal organization.

However, as noted by InSight Crime, this label is questionable because much of the gang’s activity continues to be localized. The different cells, or “cliques” control territory and charge extortion fees to local residents and businesses. While certain cliques are contracted to assist transnational drug traffickers, they generally have not in the past — with certain exceptions — run operations or been drug traffickers in their own right.

Nonetheless, cross-border communication does occur between mara cliques, as evidenced by Honduran maras’ attempts to replicate the El Salvador gang truce, and by numerous examples of maras in the United States coordinating with Central American counterparts.

The establishment of Spanish mara cliques that maintain contact with the Central American gangs, along with reports they are involved with drug traffickers, could be signs that the maras are becoming genuinely transnational operations. However, for the moment it seems social and economic factors are driving migration, not a planned criminal strategy, and their criminal objectives remained dominated by the local.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

BARRIO 18 / 9 AUG 2017

A trial has begun in El Salvador against several officials for their alleged illegal activity related to a controversial…

BARRIO 18 / 20 AUG 2020

Targeted killings, massacres, and deadly riots have all occurred in Honduras' maximum-security prisons this year, putting a spotlight on how…

BARRIO 18 / 14 SEP 2012

The United States has stated that for 2012 it will only send Honduran deportees, half of whom have criminal records,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…