San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemalan Police Whitewash Gang Signs

GUATEMALA CITY (EFE) – Insomething of a psy-op to convince residentsthey are not alone against youngmarauders, Guatemalan police areemploying the weapons of brushes, whitepaint and stencils against gangsters whohave covered the walls of a poor capitalneighborhood with graffiti and gangdrawings.A team of 25 National CivilianPolice (PNC) officers spent the weekendpainting walls in Villa Nueva, a neighborhoodcontrolled by gang membersand one of the most violent areas in thecapital.They whitewashed some of the gangmembers’ artwork, graffiti emphasizingeyes, tears, crosses and skeletal hands,with the name “Mara Salvatrucha” boldlydisplayed.On the newly painted walls, the officersstenciled the motto “PNC, watchingout for your security.”“This area belongs to the citizens, notto the gang members,” PNC directorErwin Sperissen said.The new police strategy seeks toinvolve neighborhood residents in fightingcrime, and organizes sports and recreationactivities for area youths to keep them outof gangs.According to official figures, some2,567 gang members have been arrestedacross Guatemala so far this year – 266Salvadorans, 111 Nicaraguans, 91Hondurans and 15 from other countries.The Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is aparticularly violent criminal organizationthat evolved on the streets of Los Angeles,California, during the 1980s. Most of itsmembers are young Salvadorans whoseparents fled their nation’s erstwhile civilwar for the United States.The PNC estimates there are some335 gangs in Guatemala, most of themcells of the MS-13 and Mara 18, whichinclude some 160,000 young people ofboth sexes, most between the ages of 12and 25.

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