"The Salvadorian street gangs are, first and foremost, an image, a précis of contemporary history, a doctored picture of a locality in a world that's become global. It's a memory of the gang, the fundamental myth of organised crime.
Children of the Bloods and Crips, the gangs made famous by the Dennis Hopper film Colors, these gangs were born in the Hispanic ghetto of L.A. Now traditional enemies, they are engaged in an all-out suburban war that started in the streets of Los Angeles, spreading to numerous North American cities and prisons in which hundreds, and now thousands of gang members are incarcerated.
Serving long, if not life sentences for homicide, robbery with violence, drug trafficking and carrying arms, the gangs that “controlled” the ghettos took possession of the prisons. Coming from all over Central America, over a ten year period confused teenagers, economic and political immigrants, and, in particular, hundreds of thousands of children of Salvadorians fleeing the civil war, formed themselves into well-structured criminal organisations, killing their enemies both "inside" and "outside" the gangs.
The gangs are known as maras, after the marabuntas, the carnivorous ants of Central America that destroy all life in their path, thus giving rise to the Mara Salvatrucha (literally, “Salvadorian ant”), also known as the MS-13, after 13th Street in South Central Los Angeles. This organisation was soon followed by another mara, the formidable M-18, taking its name from 18th Street where it held sway. The national maras of the southern States are sub-divided into pandillas (sets) at a regional level and cliquas (cliques), a kind of base unit for a neighbourhood or even a street. The gang members, tattooed from head to toe, are called pandilleros or homeboys. The tattoos not only serve as identifiers, but provide a visible sign of their voluntary exclusion from society. How can you get a job with the number 13 or 18 tattooed on your forehead and your cheeks adorned with teardrops, representing the number of enemies you've killed?
Writing a new chapter in the history of gang warfare in Los Angeles, the story could have remained concentrated in the United States of America. But that was without taking Washington into account...
In 1996, the American government simultaneously decreed the Illegal Immigration Reform and the Immigrant Responsibility Act, in other words the adoption of a ferocious "double penalty" legislation allowing the authorities to send more than 100,000 gang members detained in the United States straight back to Central America. With frightening consequences: this flood of delinquents corrupted the order, social stability and economy of the countries of origin, Panama, Honduras, Salvador, Guatemala, Costa-Rica, and Nicaragua… And the relocation of the gangs triggered massive paranoia regarding security in the local states."