One of the Western Hemisphere’s most brutal street gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha, now has as many as 50,000 hard-core members across Central America and the U.S., says the Miami Herald. In the last two years, the gang has cast a chill across the region with horrific acts of violence — torturing, butchering, beheading some of its victims. FBI Director Robert Mueller has made Mara Salvatrucha the top priority of the bureau’s organized crime unit, and the Pentagon’s Southern Command says the gang is one of the biggest threats to security in Central America. “The level of sophistication and brutality of these gangs is without precedent,” says Southcom chief Gen. Bantz J. Craddock.
Authorities across Central America are cracking down with a vengeance, and El Salvador in particular has made strides against the Mara Salvatrucha and its archrival Mara 18. Although reliable statistics are difficult to come by, and violent crime clearly remains high, many in El Salvador say the general sense of security has improved.In the last year, police have arrested nearly 5,000 gang members in a controversial approach called Super Mano Dura — Super Hard Hand. Simply being a member of a gang is illegal, and having a gang tattoo can land someone in jail.Police stop young men wearing baggy clothes — once a trademark of gang culture that is now mainstream — and make them lift their shirts to check for tattoos.