"Using all of the tools of a capable police investigation, Logan, a journalist based in Latin America, connects the fortunes of Brenda Paz, a Honduran-American teenager, with the ultraviolent Mara Salvatrucha gang. After family difficulties led Paz’s father to send her to Texas to live with her uncle, she witnessed a friend’s murder by her boyfriend, the leader of the local MS-13 gang, and fled to Virginia following her boyfriend’s arrest. Logan probes the secretive Mara Salvatrucha, which funds its illegal activities through extortion, kidnapping, prostitution, drugs and theft, causing the FBI to label it the most dangerous of all criminal outfits. Eventually Paz informs on the gang about the national leadership and crimes, and the Feds unwisely stash the restless teenager in the witness protection program. Placing the reader in the midst of this story with harrowing detail, Logan writes of a young life wasted and an evil crime empire."
- Publishers Weekly
"Samuel Logan has written a riveting, moving, disturbing book. This is for the Mara Salvatrucha is an insightful work of journalism that reads with novelistic color and characterization, providing the first extensive look inside a sprawling criminal enterprise that to date has been largely the subject of mtyth, misinformation, and paranois nonsense. Logan cuts through the fog by staying true to the heartbeat of his story, the sad misbegotten life of a sixteen-year-old girl who was neither prepared for the life she chose to embrace nor equipeped with the maturity needed to escape it. In so doing, he manages to both bring the Mara Salvatrucha down to size and, at the same time, demonstrate why it is they have become the most feared and far-reaching street gang in the greater Americas.
By focusing on on the humanity of his subjects, Logan also paradoxically provides an unfortegattble account of evil; by detailing the tradegy of one charming, headstrong, misguided girl, he tells the story of thousands of young people lured into gang life.
But Brenda Paz was no ordinary girl, and hers was no routine fall from grace. Her story, combined with those of the men who tried to protect her - and those who ultimately destroyed her - will move you and haunt you but also inspire you. This is an important book. Read it"
- David Corbett, Edgar-nominated author of Blood of Paradise.
A Chilling Look at Central American Gangs and Why They Are a Threat
By Douglas Farah
July 7, 2009
For those interested in exploring one of the greatest internal and transnational threats to the United States, there is a new book out today by Samuel Logan, This is For the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang.
The book traces the history of Brenda Paz, a young Honduran who joins MS-13 and eventually becomes the most effective police witness against the organization, before she was killed. But besides the individual story, the book shows just how powerful and ruthless the MS-13 has become. Given that it now has chapters in thousands of cities across the United States, and maintains its transnational structure through the clan structure in Central America, the gang (or mara in Spanish) presents a significant challenge.
But it is not just a local law enforcement issue. It is truly a transnational threat that can destroy countries. Yesterday I heard Carlos Castresana Fernandez, head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comision Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala-CICIG) discuss the serious problems of the organized criminal networks operating out of Guatemala.
He noted how the already-disturbing situation in Guatemala had gotten dramatically worse in the past three years and Mexican and Colombian cartel operatives, particularly Los Zetas, moved in and took control of local criminal operations.
The cartels were aided and abetted in their takeover efforts by the local gangs, primarily MS-13. On Guatemala's northern border with Mexico, Castresana Fernandez said, the organized criminal groups and gangs are the only authority, in the face of the complete absence of the state. "Maras plus organized crime has proven deadly," he said.
That is the reality on the ground in much of Central America. The gangs are increasingly moving from local criminal operations, coordinated with their partner gangs in the United States, to move illicit products like stolen cars, methamphetamine and weapons, into the muscle for the drug cartels.
The consequences, as Castresana Fernandez noted, is that already weak and corrupt police forces and militaries are simply overwhelmed or bought, allowing the gangs to grow in power both in their home countries and in this country. The richer they become the bigger threat they become, both here and south of our border.
The book offers an inside look at how the gangs operate at granular level. For those of us who spent time with the gangs (I did for a Washington Post series in 1998), it is a harrowing and accurate description of the amazing and disturbing world that gang members inhabit. It also places the development of the gangs and the recruitment of gang members in its proper context of displacement, social dislocation and family separation that has helped define the Central American immigrant narrative.
I am not one who worries a great deal about the use of Hezbollah or other terrorist groups of gang-controlled pipelines to enter the United States. With embassies in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua etc. all willing to issue valid travel documents to them, it is hard to see why they would bother with the riskier and more vulnerable method of moving over the land border clandestinely.
But it is clear that these gangs and cartels are, in their own right, becoming increasingly strong transnational threats, and that they offer other services to Hezbollah and other groups that would be useful-drug trafficking routes, protection of the pipelines they use etc. To understand why the gangs are a threat, this book is a good place to start.