The Mara Salvatrucha was born in the poor neighborhoods of East Los Angeles. The group started as a small teenage crew, but in the last three decades it has grown into a transnational criminal organization. Many in Honduras fear their power.
In San Pedro Sula, they have buried enemies alive. They have kidnapped the kids of some who have failed to pay extortion fees. They have tortured and decapitated rivals. They have cut bodies to pieces and burned them. They have blown buildings with C-4 explosives. And their AK-47s -- left over from civil wars in Central America-- have left a bloody trail.
"The gangs, they are the ones in command here," said Carlos Menjivar, of San Pedro Sula.
The gang members use fear to control urban turf. Law enforcement reported the criminal organization has been involved in extortion, blackmail, kidnapping, car robberies and illegal drug dealing. They are also involved in prostitution, human trafficking, assassinations and racketeering.
National Guard Capt. Marco Trochez said the danger children face, because of the gangs is "pure reality."
Experts believe that gang members traveling from Honduras to the U.S. create a revolving door effect that perpetuates the criminal activity.The organization is involved in black markets through the Americas from Colombia to Canada. They have a presence in Miami and every major city in the U.S.
In Miami-Dade, MS-13 members have been involved in human trafficking and drug dealing. Police said they have a transient presence in Homestead and Sweetwater. Antonio Sanchez, 18, said he moved from Tegucigalpa to Miami-Dade to run away from violence two years ago. He is working as a mechanic and is saving money to move to Delaware where he has a cousin.
"Their minds turned dark. They don't have hearts or compassion. They don't even fear God," Sanchez said in Spanish. "I would look down whenever I would see them coming even though I had known them since I was little. I ran into one last year and that is when I knew I had to move. "
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