Federico Breve’s article “The Maras: A Menace to the Americas” addresses the problem of maras, youth gangs that are active in Central America. After telling the story of the gangs’ establishment and evolution, the author addresses the issue of solving the threat, offering some measures that would be required to deal with this hazard.
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According to Breve’s “Maras” article, why and how have street gangs proliferated in Central America?
According to Breve’s article, maras have their origins in people who fled from enmities and clashes between rebels and heavy-handed state enforcers that took place in their native countries at the end of the 20th century. Many of the refugees sought sanctuary in the USA, and some of them found it in areas riddled with criminals.
Having very little choice, the evacuees (or, more often, their children) joined already existing street gangs or formed new ones. Many of these now-gangsters then came back to their mother countries in Central America to take advantage of their countrymen.
The spread of the maras was significantly exacerbated by the problems that commonly lead to increasing crime levels, namely, poverty, low-standard system of education and dearth of social stress on staying at school, unemployment and underemployment, as well as resulting from these factors declination of moral values, and an ineffective system of crime control.
Besides, a great number of gang members who had been active in America were captured by the police and deported to their native countries in 1998-1999, where they quickly became gang leaders.
How have maras changed over the years, and why have their members become “natural gangsters?”
As time passed, maras grew bigger; they employed practices their members used in the US in the past, which led to the formation of a bipolar system of gangs. Having realized their own impunity, the gangs extended their area of influence and grew in size further, either luring new members by the prospect of escaping economic problems, or by forcing people (especially schoolchildren) to join.
It is assumed that maras also received support from major crime organizations or corrupted members of the state system. In 2007 (when the article was written), maras already grew wealthy, obtained expensive firearms, participated in illegal trafficking of people, and were looking to establish a drug distribution network.
Having grown mature, gang members no longer required tattoos, special dress codes or other external symbols to express their identity; they also received credentials from various centers for rehabilitation and started to avoid using special sign language for communication, becoming “natural gangsters”, which complicated the process of their identification.
What are Breve’s proposed anti-gang solutions? Which do you think will be most effective and why?
The mara threat grew serious indeed, as they reached the potential of becoming the part of the legal apparatus. Therefore, the hazard had to be tended to as soon as possible. Breve proposed to introduce international anti-gang programs, which would require combined efforts of enforcers of all the countries involved, as well as legal support and participation of local communities.
In our opinion, the most important measures Breve offered (the author also stressed their importance) are connected to the prevention of further gang increase and the rehabilitation of the former gang members.
To counter the further growth, it is crucial to fight poverty, the lack of economic perspectives and hope among the local population, as well as establish special educational and social initiatives to teach the youth and their parents about the gangs. It is also necessary to create rehabilitation programs for former mara members, because otherwise they would have nowhere to go after prison, and would simply return to their previous activities.
As we have seen, the mara threat in Central America grew serious indeed. In our opinion, it is essential to observe that the emergence of the gangs resulted mainly from poverty, problems with employment, hopelessness, and cruelty of the state machine. It is our belief that the main measure to be taken to prevent crime is to address its causes, poverty and lack of perspectives being among the main ones.