In 2014, 70,000 children and young adults fled from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras towards the southern outskirts of the United States. Many of them were attempting to escape from the dreaded maras in their countries. Maras is the local name for youthful gangs that terrorize El Salvador uprooting an enormous number of individuals from their homes due to persistent violence and terrorizing those that remain. This sad state of affairs is a tragic reality in a nation that emerged from a 10-year civil war 23 years ago. That civil conflict cost left more than 75 thousand individuals dead.
The gangs that now overwhelm El Salvador started in Los Angeles. The US government deported criminal elements to their home countries including El Salvador. These elements had greater organizational skills, money and ambition than those that already existed. It is important to note that they now had contacts in the United States that they could use to smuggle arms, drugs and people into the largest economy in the world for profit.
These elements found that it was anything but difficult to enroll adolescents from shantytowns into their group because these teens lacked money, jobs, and opportunities. The maras could give them something to do that could earn quick money for them even the teens with the least skills. The disregard of poor regions by past government regimes and the private sector was worthy of note. Gangs quickly gained control of large areas in the country with little resistance offered by the corrupt state machinery that existed in the country at the time.
The maras are now a significant part of poor communities in El Salvador. Some gangs have entire family members as part of their crew. In other words, it is not surprising if one finds that a mother, her husband, father, and children are in one gang alongside other members. In 2012, the government of El Salvador estimated that there were nearly 30,000 gang members in the country. These members have relatives, friends and colleagues, which would mean that about 10% of the population in the country has links to one gang or the other. Unfortunately, the deteriorating gang situation in El Salvador leads to extreme violence unseen or unmatched presently in the West. The maras murder no less than ten people each night in this country according to youth gangs statistics El Salvador.
The absence of requisite training and resources for the police force makes it unlikely that the people of El Salvador will solve this issue anytime soon. However, the administration recently unveiled a five-year plan that would lead to the expansion of the law enforcement infrastructure in the country. It would also develop its prison system and improve its programs on behavior correction. The plan will cost the government a whopping $2.3 billion.
Everyday Living To Encourage (E.L.I.T.E) is a missionary program designed to give young men options as opposed to joining gangs. We work with at-risk young men every day and act as positive male role models. Our “Extreme Mentorship” methods, includes obstacle courses, that is used to build their confidence both mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and encourage young men and women to choose Jesus instead of gangs.