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July 11th, 2006
18 with a Bullet
Timeline: Gangs, El Salvador, and United States
1960s The 18th Street Gang is formed in the Pico Union district of Los Angeles. Sometime later, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is formed, possibly as a splinter group. The two gangs become rivals.
1980 Civil war begins in El Salvador, lasting 12 years and claiming an estimated 75,000 lives. Honduras and Guatemala suffer similar bloody wars throughout this period.
1980s Central Americans flee the violence in their home countries for U.S. ghettos, finding themselves without work and needing protection from the local Mexican gangs that despise and threaten them. Ranks of the maras (gangs) swell in the U.S.
1992 Peace accords end the Salvadoran civil war. Over the next several years the U.S. will begin to deport Salvadoran gang members to their home country in large numbers. The gangs grow to play a large role in the drug trade in the U.S., and develop a reputation for brutal violence.
1996 The U.S. passes the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 on September 30. A broad piece of legislation aimed at reducing illegal immigration, the Act rapidly increases the pace of deportation of gang members.
1997 The son of Honduran President Ricardo Maduro is kidnapped and murdered by gang members. The Honduran government announces a zero-tolerance policy on gangs.
1998 According to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, more than 34,000 criminals are deported over the next seven years to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
2003 A study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates the cost of violence to El Salvador in 2003 at $1.7 billion: 11.5% of its GDP.
2004 Murder rates are 46 per 100,000 people in Honduras; 41 in El Salvador, and 35 in Guatemala. In contrast, the the U.S. murder rate is 5.7 per 100,000.

In Honduras, MS-13 members attack a public bus with automatic weapons, killing 28 people.
In response to popular outrage against gang violence, Tony Saca is voted into power in El Salvador on “mano super dura” or “ultra-hard hand” anti-gang platform. Platform includes policies such as arresting suspects for “gang-style” tattoos or clothing, and results in over 16,000 arrests. Gang members come to dominate Salvadoran and other Central American prisons.

2005 In the U.S., Operation Community Shield arrests 103 gang members in February and March, and another 582 in August.

In Honduras, a brief truce between the gangs ends when some 35 members of Mara 18 are killed by MS-13 members in a coordinated attack across several prisons.

2006 Statistics from the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center estimate up to 10,000 active MS-13 members in up to 30 U.S. states.

Some 25,000 gang members are estimated to be active in El Salvador, which averages 10 homicides per day, and suffers from prisons which operate at double capacity.


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