Federal authorities in the United States estimates that street gang Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, has at least 30,000 members in its organization. The members are spread out across the Americas region, with members known to be in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
In the United States, there are at least 8,000 members operating in the country. They have been identified in over 40 countries and in Washington, DC, and are primarily involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking and murder. Between 2006 and 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested over 4,000 MS-13 members.
The gang members are recognized for their extensive tattoos.
Source: Samuel Rubenfeld, “Treasury Labels MS-13 Transnational Criminal Organization,” Wall Street Journal, Corruption Currents Blog, October 11, 2012.
In 2011, there were 50 cases of kidnappings reported in El Salvador, according to law enforcement officials. Of these cases, 20 were identified as kidnappings with the remaining cases classified as extortion attempts involving ransom.
In 2010, there were 45 cases of kidnapping, with 14 cases where the victim was murdered.
Source: Jeanna Cullinan, “Kidnappings Down 50% in El Salvador,” InSight, November 28, 2011.
Drug cartel Los Zetas was charging migrants between $7,000 to $10,000 per person to be smuggled from Central American countries through Mexico and into the United States.
The drug trafficking cartel diversified into human smuggling and had recruiters in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to transport people along supply routes towards the U.S. border.
Source: Tim Johnson, “Violent Mexican drug gang, Zetas, taking control of migrant smuggling,” Miami Herald, August 12, 2011.
In El Salvador,security officials state that drug violence caused the homicide rate increased by 37 percent in 2009 as there were 71 murders for every 100,000 residents. Other Central America countries had high homicide rates as well, with Honduras having 67 per 100,000, and Guatemala having 52 murders per 100,000 residents.
By comparison, Mexico has 14 murders per 100,000 and the United States has 5.4 per 100,000 residents.
The high level of deaths in Central America is reported to be due to the increase in cocaine smuggling routes throughout the country. Cocaine seizures by security personnel in the region quadrupled from 2004 and 2007.
Source: Nick Miroff and William Booth, “Mexican drug cartels bring violence with them in move to Central America,” Washington Post, July 27, 2010.