Guatemala is home to dozens of violent street gangs, with nearly sixty independent groups reported in Guatemala City alone.
It's indisputable that of all the street gangs currently operating within the country, MS-13 and Barrio 18 are the most powerful. However, these gangs weren't always here, and many of Guatemala's gang problems originate with deportations from the United States. This is how MS-13 and Barrio 18 first got their start in countries like Honduras and El Salvador, and how crime groups like the Latin Kings and the Sureños were introduced to Guatemala.
There are dozens of indigenous crime groups within the country however, but finding a list of names and associated territories for these organizations is difficult at best. Leaving one to wonder what sort of impact these smaller maras pose for Guatemalan society.
Things that are known however, is that the majority of these groups recruit young. As young as sixteen or seventeen where initiates are forced to learn how to kill, steal and commit other violent acts in order to prove loyalty to the organization.
Another means of proving loyalty is by decorating the body in elaborate tattoos, many of which bare the insignia, symbols or signs of said organization.
We see this time and time again in Mara organizations like MS-13 and Barrio 18, where images of intricately tattooed gang members in large groups have thoroughly captivated the media.
It is through this means that members not only display loyalty but also membership to any particular group. A warning sign to passers by similar to the striping on a venomous snake that lead people to avoid these individuals. And which hamper any future efforts to turn their lives around.
Like most gangs worldwide though, membership in a Mara is a lifelong commitment, and those who attempt to leave the gang are seldom permitted to do so. Those that are granted leave are usually only done so by giving up their weapons, the majority of their proceeds and sometimes even their cars and houses to the gang in order to be spared death.
Returning to the group from that point forward is forbidden, but the tattoos are forever. Leaving any ex-member a danger to themselves if seen by old rivals.
But what do these groups do? Maras typically engage in drug trafficking, contract killing, protection rackets, abductions, prostitution and theft to name a few. Throughout Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador alike these organizations are engaged in almost every blue collar crime you can imagine.