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Gangs in Central America

NCJ Number
Clare Ribando Seelke
Date Published
December 2009
22 pages
This report from the Congressional Research Service examines the problem of crime and gang violence in Central America, and analyzes U.S. policy with respect to this problem.
This report notes that gang-related violence is a serious and growing problem in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and that the governments in these countries, while moving away from repressive anti-gang strategies, have yet to implement effective anti-gang policies that include prevention and rehabilitation efforts for former gang members. The report also notes that U.S. officials are concerned with the expanding presence of two violent gangs, MS-13 and M-18, into cities across the United States. A strategy was developed, and which is now being implemented, that states that the U.S. government will pursue coordinated anti-gang activities through five broad areas: diplomacy, repatriation, law enforcement, capacity enhancement, and prevention. Over the past several years, Congress has increased funding to support anti-gang efforts in this region. These efforts include the global International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement fund and the Merida Initiative. This report is divided into three main sections. The first section examines the scope of the gang problem in Central America and discusses factors that contribute to the problem, including poverty, and a lack of educational and employment opportunities. The second section examines anti-gang efforts by countries in Central America, while the third section discusses U.S. policy towards anti-gang efforts in the region. Tables