• Image 1 of 23

July 2013 Featured Photographer of the Month

Gangs - El Salvador

Giles Clarke | El Salvador

In San Salvador, the two main street gangs are known as 'Mara Salvatruchas' (MS-13) and 'Barrio18' (M18).

For close to twenty years, these gangs have raged against each other and grown rapidly throughout Latin America. They boast a worldwide membership of over 100,000 active gang members. In 2011, the murder rate peaked at 15 homicides per day in the San Salvador area. A 'truce' came in 2012 when a deal between the MS-13 and Barrio18 came to fruition after their leaders were moved from maximum security jails to more comfortable conditions to flesh out the finer details of a peace process.

This truce was facilitated by the government and leading church figures. So far, the pact is holding. Homicide figures have dropped down by 50% on pre-truce figures.


In San Salvador, the two main street gangs are known as 'Mara Salvatruchas' (MS-13) and 'Barrio18' (M18).

Through friends in the country, I joined with a Police Captain and former gang-members who together immersed me into the 'gang truce' situation in a rough suburb that's some 20 miles outside of San Salvador. Over the next few days, I spent time with the special police units patrolling the streets of this particularly troubled area where the two main gangs live and operate.

In the back of the local police station, I was shown a sweltering enclosure ringed by a high, barbed wire wall, there were three, 12x15 ft cages each full of prisoners, one for each gang and another for 'common criminals'. These cages were designed to be 72-hour holding cells but many have been imprisoned here for over a year and spend their days pulling apart their clothes and sewing together hammocks in which they sleep stacked on top of each other. 


 Many thanks to Emilio 'Breakstar' and his crew in Q. Also thanks to 'Mario' my very patient driver and to the police force of Quetzeltepeque, El Salvador.

 Giles Clarke is a social documentary photographer based in New York City. He is represented (as a contributing photographer) by Getty Images.



Content loading...

Make Comment/View Comments