Gangs in Central America

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Gang activity has transcended the borders of Central America, Mexico and North America. Especially in Central America and Mexico, gang activity poses a threat to national security. A multi-national plan to attack the growing gang network is needed. In this research project I plan to: (1) Analyze roots causes, (2) Examine the transnational and regional nature of gangs in Central America and Mexico and (3) Evaluate policies and programs aimed to decrease gang activity in Central America, Mexico and the United States. The root causes for gangs

The gang phenomenon is of a cyclical and transnational nature which is a result of a multitude of contributing factors as shown in The cycle begins with limited access to education and job opportunities that forces youth into gangs in order to maintain a decent standard of living through criminal activities. In addition, being part of a gang brings youth a sense of belonging that they generally do not get from their families and community. The cycle continues as gangs members have easy access to drugs and firearms that allows them to maintain their criminal activities, an inefficient United States deportation system that sends gang members to their original country that already have overpopulated prisons, and an overwhelmed ineffective justice systems on Central America and Mexico that allows gang members to get in an out of prison without proper rehabilitation. [1] An article in the New York times summarizes the latter issue of gangs members coming back after being deported: “Part of the reason is that after deportation without federal prosecution, gang members are generally not subject to penalties in the countries to which they are expelled, officials say. ''They get a chance to hang out in another country for a while, and then come right back,'' often having recruited new members, Mr. Hearnsberger said.”[2] Examine the transnational and regional aspects of gangs in Central America Gang members and gang networks are not homogenous in Central America and Mexico. The two main gangs operating in Central America, Mexico and the United States are “18th Street Gang” (also known as M-18) and their main rival “Mara Salvatrucha” (also known as MS-13). However, gangs tend to share a common development pattern:[3] 1) First Generation of Gangs: The gangs begin as an organization that provides “protection” to its members. 2) Second Generation of Gangs: As the gang develops it shifts to drug trafficking, and smuggling people, body parts, armaments, and drugs. Basically, these gangs act as mercenaries for larger and better organized criminal organizations such as drug cartels. 3) Third Generation of Gangs: Finally, the gangs proceed to expand their geographical and commercial territory as they support the long established transnational criminal organizations. Gang expansion brings more violence and more regional instability and insecurity. Gangs challenge national security of Central American and Mexico in at least four ways:[4] (1) By overwhelming the police and legal system through numbers, gangs limit the government capacity to maintain order. (2) Gangs act as alternative governments in ungoverned areas of each country. (3) Gangs dominate the informal economic sector through the establishment of small businesses that compete with legitimate business. Gangs establish these business using violence and coercion of government authorities. (4) They infiltrate nongovernmental organizations and police to further their goals. Ultimately, the gangs contribute to the process of state failure in which a state cannot control its national territory or the people in it. Basically, it is a game in which the gangs along with transnational criminal organizations are the winners, and the rest of society loses. Furthermore, the longer the failed state persists, the more gangs and their regional spillover effects endanger regional security. The regional...
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