San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. Studies ‘Gangbuster’ Bill Aimed at MS-13

WASHINGTON, D.C. – One of thehighest-profile trials to date of members ofthe Central American- and Los Angeles,California-based Mara Salvatrucha streetgang (MS-13) could bring death sentences tofour young men accused of killing a pregnantHispanic teenager in Virginia in 2003.“This crime is one more example of theincrease in violence on the part of thesebands. It’s time we declared war on thesegangs,” said Republican Congressman J.Randy Forbes, of Virginia.The four members of MS-13 standaccused of stabbing to death Brenda Paz ina gang-related settling of accounts. Herbody was left in a gully along theShenandoah River.Paz, 17, allegedly had informed onother gang members to the authorities, butwas killed after leaving the U.S. federalwitness-protection program.PROSECUTORS have asked for thedeath penalty for the four accused murderers.The increase in gang violence, especiallyon the part of Mara Salvatrucha –which is considered the largest transnationalgang operating in North and CentralAmerica – is worrying authorities.Last month, Congressman Forbesintroduced the Gang Deterrence andCommunity Protection Act of 2005, or“Gangbusters Bill,” in the House ofRepresentatives.The bill calls for $50 million annuallyfor five years in increased federal fundingfor law enforcement efforts at all levels tocombat violent gangs. In addition, the billcoordinates the efforts of law-enforcementagencies to share intelligence and to jointlyinvestigate violent gangs. It also calls forstiffer sanctions, including the death penalty.The act would create new criminal gangprosecution offenses, enhance existinggang and violent crime penalties todeter and punish illegal street gangs, andproposes violent-crime reforms needed toeffectively prosecute gang members.Congressman Forbes said that MS-13,which is involved in drug dealing, extortionand other crimes, has between 8,000 and10,000 members in 31 U.S. states. The gangis reportedly now active in all U.S. citieswith populations of more than 250,000.THE MS-13 started up on the streetsof Los Angeles among Salvadoran emigrants,but then spread back to El Salvadorand Honduras when members were deportedfrom the United States.Both El Salvador and Honduras havepassed new zero-tolerance laws to combatthe gang activities in those countries. Humanrights advocates in Central America havecriticized the tough legislation – especiallyEl Salvador’s “Super Firm Hand” anti-ganglaw – for making a mockery of due process,while jailing a lot of innocent young men inpolice dragnets.While the U.S. bill doesn’t appear toallow some of the same detention policies– including arresting people just for sportinggang tattoos – the legal initiativedemonstrates a similar frustration amongU.S. authorities trying to crack down ongang violence.A recent FBI report said there are morethan 750,000 gang members in the UnitedStates.“This is almost the same number of peoplethat we have on active duty in the Armyand Navy,” Congressman Forbes noted.The U.S. lawmaker said that policereports link the MS-13 with rising drugtrafficking, and argued that many of itsmembers who get out of jail return to theircommunities to cause more problems.FORBES’ bill was co-sponsored byeight other Republican congressmen.Among the increased penalties included inthe bill is imposing the death penalty orlife in prison in cases of murder, and 30years behind bars for kidnapping, rape ormutilation.In northern Virginia, there were twocases in the past year in which suspectedgang members hacked off their victim’shands with machetes (TT, March 18).The bill also proposes sentences of 20years for crimes in which the victim suffersserious injury, and penalties of 10 years inprison for assorted other crimes.The Gangbusters Bill was scheduled tobe examined this week in a House Crime,Terrorism and Homeland SecuritySubcommittee session.

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