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Central American Gangs

- January 30, 2015
Can violence in the region be stopped?
  • Overview
  • Current Situation
  • Chronology
  • Pro/Con
  • More...
Featured Report

Young people fleeing Central America's so-called Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — for the United States tell of life made unliveable by violent street gangs, stratospheric homicide rates, extortion threats and official corruption. The violence has washed over into the United States, where Barrio-18 and MS-13 — rival gangs with roots in both Southern California and Central America — have committed murder and mayhem in Los Angeles and other American cities. Though Central American civil wars and state-sponsored death squads were major news in the 1980s and '90s, most Americans only became aware of the present crisis last year, when tens of thousands of young migrants — many of them children traveling alone — poured over the U.S. border, seeking asylum. The Obama administration is funding a preventive strategy aimed at curbing gang violence in Central America, a contrast to the enforcement-heavy “Iron Fist” approach used in the region, now widely questioned. Critics are skeptical about the new U.S. strategy, and few experts expect the crisis to ease anytime soon.

Asylum Applications

The Obama administration has allowed Central American children with a parent legally in the U.S. to apply for asylum.

Calls for Reform

Central American officials say they are committed to anti-corruption measures.

1951–1975CIA-organized Guatemala coup opens new era of political violence in Central America.
1979–1986Nicaragua's Sandinista revolution intensifies conflicts between left-wing guerrillas and repressive government, prompting U.S. support for the anti-Sandinista Contras.
1990–2003Central American refugee exodus to U.S. includes young people who join gangs and are then deported.
2004-PresentRising crime tied to gang expansion grows in importance as political issue in region.

Do U.S.-funded anti-gang programs in Central America work?


Elizabeth Hogan
Acting assistant administrator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. Agency for International Development.


U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.
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