Saturday, May 12, 2012

Central America's gangs

A meeting of the maras

Precarious truces between gangs have lowered the murder rate in two of the world’s most violent countries—but for how long?

MEMBERS of El Salvador's maras, or street gangs, make little effort to hide their affiliations: they can be spotted easily thanks to their head-to-toe tattoos. Formed in Californian jails and exported back to Central America by deported migrants, the mobs have made El Salvador one of the world's most violent countries. Last year 4,374 murders were committed, as the gangs fought for territory—a rate per head 15 times higher than in the United States.
But now quiet reigns in the country's roughest districts. In March the two main gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18, declared a truce, cutting the murder rate by two-thirds overnight (see chart). Police say May has been even calmer. The rate is now close to that of fairly stable Brazil.
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