Gang rivalry blamed for Honduras factory killings

By Dialogo
September 10, 2010

Police on Wednesday blamed gang rivalry for an assault rifle attack at a Honduran shoe factory that killed 18 people, Security Minister Oscar Alvarez said.

The three or four men armed with AK-47 rifles burst into the factory on Tuesday and sprayed their victims with bullets, a method that is “typical of gangs and the maras,” Alvarez said.

The “maras” are criminal gangs that originated on the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s before spreading to elsewhere in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America.

The most famous groups — the Mara 18 (M18) and Mara Salvatrucha (MS) count tens of thousands of members in Central America, mostly unemployed youths recruited in impoverished neighborhoods.

Police now believe the attack in San Pedro Sula was a settling of scores between the two bands over “a territorial dispute and a drug deal,” according to Alvarez.

“This area is considered a Mara 18 stronghold and the people inside (of the factory) were close to the MS,” he explained.

Honduras has seen a spike of gang violence this year, which Alvarez attributed to a government policy established in January that he said had reduced drug shipments by nearly 60 percent.

Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world — 57 per 100,000 people, or 12 every day. San Pedro Sula, with one million inhabitants, is considered the country’s murder capital.

In neighboring El Salvador, the maras also made a big show of force on Tuesday and Wednesday by halting bus traffic to press the government to stop a law banning gangs that passed last week.

“As gang members, we call on the government to veto the law against gangs and urge it to begin a transparent process of dialogue in order to find a solution to the violence,” the Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha said in a rare joint statement.

The gangs’ names are derived from the marabunta, killer ants in the Amazon.