Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Henry J. Hyde, Chairman

CONTACT: Sam Stratman, (202) 226-7875, March 16, 2005

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Gangs and Crime in Latin America

Burton Schedules Wednesday Hearing to Examine Threat

of Gangs and Increasing Crime Rates in Western Hemisphere


BACKGROUND:  Over the past year, U.S. officials have expressed increasing concern about gang violence in Latin America, and more specifically, its spillover into the United States.  In February 2005, 103 members of the violent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang were arrested in several major U.S. cities – including a man charged in connection with a December 2004 bus massacre in Honduras that killed 28 people.  “In recent years, Latin America has been identified as the most violent region on the planet, with a homicide rate three times the average for the rest of world,” said Subcommittee Chairman Dan Burton.  “Equally alarming, Latin America accounts for an estimated 75 percent of the world’s kidnappings, with more than 7,500 abductions reported in the region each year.  I am deeply concerned that this increased violent gang activity will have a destabilizing effect on the democratic and economic progress we have made throughout the broader Western Hemisphere,” Burton stated.  Citizens in Central and Latin America have consistently identified crime and gang violence among the top issues of public concern, prompting countries such as Honduras and El Salvador to recently enact tough anti-gang legislation.  In some countries, high violent crime rates already threaten political stability, inhibit social development and discourage foreign investment.  Many experts assert that this violence leads to increasing illegal immigration, drug smuggling and trafficking in persons and weapons to the United States.  Some of the largest and most violent gangs in the Western Hemisphere operate in Central America and Mexico.  In 2004, El Salvador’s national police reported that, of the 2,756 homicides committed, 60 percent were gang-related.  And the U.S. Southern Command has estimated that there are around 70,000 gang members in Central America.  FBI officials and Mexican authorities recently met in Washington to launch a joint initiative to share intelligence information and communications concerning gang leaders of the various MS-13 branches.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an estimated 30,000 gangs with about 800,000 members are currently operating in the U.S.  “These gangs represent the very real threat of homegrown terror.  They are tied to numerous acts of murder, extortion, robbery, kidnapping, and violent assaults, as well as drug, auto, and weapons smuggling,” Burton remarked.  “These nefarious activities are severely undermining the support for democratic institutions and reforms that we have worked so hard to develop.  It is clearly in everyone’s best interest that we address this problem now, and end the threat of transnational gang violence in the Western Hemisphere.”


Immediately preceding the hearing, the Subcommittee will  markup H.Res. 193, Expressing support of an historic meeting of the Assembly to Promote the Civil Society in Cuba on May 20, 2005, in Havana.


WHAT:                     Subcommittee Oversight Hearing:  Gangs and Crime in Latin America

                      Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere,

                      U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), Chairman

WHEN:                     10:30 a.m., Wednesday, April 20, 2005

WHERE:                   Room 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

WITNESSES:           Adolfo A. Franco, Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Latin America and Caribbean, United States Agency for International Development;
                                 Chris Swecker, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C.;
                                 John P. Torres,
Deputy Assistant Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security;
                                 Officer Kelly L. Smith,
Howard County Police Department, Ellicott City, Maryland;
                                 Stephen Johnson,
Senior Policy Analyst, The Heritage Foundation; and
                                 Manuel Orozco,
Senior Associate, Inter-American Dialogue.


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