Why Salvadorian Teens Join Brutal Gangs and How Courts Make Things Worse

By: Adriana Peralta - @AdriPeraltaM - Mar 20, 2017, 3:08 pm
Salvadorian Teens Join Brutal Gangs
El Salvador had a rate of 103 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. (El Tiempo Honduras)

EspañolThere were 30 murders in El Salvador on March 15 in El Salvador. Just on March 15.

Afterward, Justice and Security Minister Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde came out saying the country will have to face some rough days and hard times if it is ever going to win against the country’s widespread problem with violence.

In 2015, El Salvador had a rate of 103 murders per 100,000 inhabitants and 81.7 in 2016. There are an estimated 60,000 gang members in the country. The Mara Salvatrucha gang has 30,000 members in El Salvador and another 50,000 around the world, of which between 8,000 t0 10,000 live in the United States.

On March 16th, a study titled “The New Face of Street Gangs: The Gang Phenomenon in El Salvador,” was published by the Kimberly Green Center for Latin America and the Caribbean, in coordination with the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at the International University of Florida.

The study is based on a survey of gang members and former gang members and seeks to explain why they join a mara (gang). For the study, 1,196 imprisoned gang members were interviewed, both retired and active, in six prisons.

Hay diversos motivos que impulsan a alguien a pertenecer a una pandilla.
Graph 3.7. Reasons to join a gang (in percentages)


More than 62 percent of men who have joined gangs or maras in El Salvador did so for “leisure” or “friendship.” They wanted to be accepted and when they see how bad it can get, 19.6 percent said they felt they could not get out. Twenty-one percent of women, however, entered gangs “due to family problems” and 12.3 percent said they joined because they were forced.

How to rehabilitate a gang member?

James Garbarino is an expert on children who commit crimes. He gave an interview to the Salvadorian media outlet La Prensa Gráfica, during which he spoke about violence in El Salvador.


One statement that is often made about children who have committed murder is that they are “monstrous” human beings. However, in a study done by Gabarino, he tried to give a humane explanation for those actions.

La proporción de hombres en pandilleras es muy superior a la presencia femenina. (FIU/Funde)
The number of men in gangs is by far more than women. (FIU/Funde)

“I have worked with many judges and I notice that whenever juries have this conception of ‘absolute evil’ it is more complicated for them to dictate more accurate sentences,” he said.

According to the expert, the appropriate action to take with these children is to give them rehabilitation, not condemn them to continue in a cycle of violence.

“There are only a small percentage of individuals that cannot be rehabilitated, and in psychology the classic term for these people is psychopaths.”

In El Salvador, few people believe in the rehabilitation of gang members, the conception of them being that they are more or less psychopaths. However, others want to give them a second chance.

Gabarino has studied the psychological evolution of adolescents who were sentenced to a life in prison for having committed a felony in their adolescence. And in the last 20 years, he has become convinced that rehabilitation is possible. He showed that it requires learning and spiritual experiences, reading and meditation — something that changes your conception of the world.

The expert asked teenage murderers how their lives would have gone had they not been locked up. Most agree that they would have remained in crime and would not have survived. At age 25, the brain is reportedly more mature and can better analyze situations than when committing crimes at a younger age.

Datos sobre los encuestados. (FIU/Funde)
Information about the interviewees. (FIU/Funde)

When a person is imprisoned, they have the option to change their lives. In El Salvador, there is no such opportunity, because the prison system is broken.

“When these people go to prison, they have to make a decision: to become savage barbarians or become monks. In some prisons in the United States, inmates are given facilities or spaces for the latter. If we look at a spectrum of prisons from Scandinavia, which are focused on human rights and rehabilitation, and we go to the other extreme, to the United States (we can see that) that the issue of rehabilitation is not just a psychological issue, it is also a political issue. “

According to the expert, the only way to achieve real rehabilitation is to change the mentality we use to construct prison systems.

“It is possible to change the social environment inside prisons,” he said. “It does not happen by force, but rather through reflections, meditations, through a respectful approach.”

Source: La Prensa Gráfica

Adriana Peralta Adriana Peralta

Adriana Peralta is a freedom advocate from El Salvador and a @CREO_org board member. She is a PanAm Post reporter and blogger, a 2005 Ruta Quetzal scholar, a trained engineer, and an SMC University masters student in political economy. She is also a Pink Floyd fan. Follow @AdriPeraltaM.

Mexico’s Dependency on US Natural Gas and Petroleum Spells Trouble, Commission Warns

By: Elena Toledo - @NenaToledo - Mar 20, 2017, 2:29 pm
gas-natural-mexico (1)

EspañolThe steady drop in natural gas production, as well as increased demand in Mexico, has created a fossil fuel deficit in the country, officials said. Director of Mexico's National Fossil Fuel Commission Héctor Moreira said the country's high dependence on the United States for gasoline and natural gas is a problem. "What we have before us is national concern about how we can encourage natural gas production and how we can deal with our dependence on imports," Moreira said, who claimed this could even be a national security issue. Read More: Guillermo Lasso Denounces Lilian Tintori’s Expulsion from Ecuador Read More: Cuba Offers Former FARC Guerrilla 500 Medical School Scholarships "We require a mechanism to promote gas exploitation," he said. "In the United States, they are drilling 25,000 wells per year and we are drilling 1,000. Canada now has 700,000 wells, while we have 30,000, so we need mechanisms to encourage natural gas production." Moreira said that among electricity companies, there is a growing need for guaranteed natural gas service for operations, and that may be a method to help the industry grow in Mexico, where natural gas is priced very low. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1459522593195-0'); });   "We have to tie electricity production to gas production. If a company is producing gas, it can make a long-term contract with someone who produces electricity. So, with the money, you obstain a financing system. That idea has not been implemented yet, "said the commissioner. "If we have natural gas alone," he added, "in Burgos, for example, then as we produce less oil, we produce less gas, and the world is moving toward gas, whose consumption is growing. So now the question is: how do we do encourage gas production?" Source: El Economista

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