Maras (gangs)

Maras (or marabuntas) are gangs originating from Central American countries such as El Salvador,Honduras,Guatemala,Nicaragua and Mexico. Maras are particularly active in the United States mainly in California and Washington D.C.. The word mara is Salvadoran Spanish slang for 'group of people/mob/gang'. As with the English word "gang", "mara" evolved from meaning a "group of friends" to a "group of criminals." It also is a name of a deadly ant in Central America. They attempt to pass themselves off as Mexican illegals, thus giving them better "breathing room". They deal in the transfer of narcotics. They use Western Union to transfer funds between their entities. They do occasionally commit murder, but mostly towards other Hispanic illegals, in an attempt to "smoke screen" their operations.

People from El Salvador, Honduras and other Central American countries escaped during the 1980s to the United States. These people were running away from the civil wars and the dictators behind them that struck the countries of Central and South America, but particularly El Salvador.

Following the end of the Salvadoran civil war in 1992 the United States began a process of deporting Salvadoran nationals living in the United States back to their country of origin. Many of the deportees were Mara Salvatrucha gang members from the Los Angeles area and many continued their gang activities upon returning to El Salvador.

Back in Central America, these deportees have recruited more members, including new members who emigrate illegally to the United States.


Maras activities range from drug trafficking and prostitution to assaults and burglaries. Almost all maras display tattoos on their bodies as a sign of their affiliation to their gang. "La vida por las maras" or "the life for the gang" is a very commonly used phrase by these gangs. The killing of innocents is part of some gangs' initiation process, most notably MS13, and these activities follow them for the rest of their lives.


The well most known maras are Mara Salvatrucha and their rivals Mara 18 and the former Salvadoran death squad Sombra Negra. Mara can also be short for the Maravilla gangs in East Los Angeles.

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