Mano Dura: The Politics of Gang Control in El Salvador

Mano Dura: The Politics of Gang Control in El Salvador

by Sonja Wolf


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In 1992, at the end of a twelve-year civil war, El Salvador was poised for a transition to democracy. Yet, after longstanding dominance by a small oligarchy that continually used violence to repress popular resistance, El Salvador’s democracy has proven to be a fragile one, as social ills (poverty chief among them) have given rise to neighborhoods where gang activity now thrives. Mano Dura examines the ways in which the ruling ARENA party used gang violence to solidify political power in the hands of the elite—culminating in draconian “iron fist” antigang policies that undermine human rights while ultimately doing little to address the roots of gang membership.

Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork and policy analysis, Mano Dura examines the activities of three nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have advocated for more nuanced policies to eradicate gangs and the societal issues that are both a cause and an effect of gang proliferation. While other studies of street gangs have focused on relatively distant countries such as Colombia, Argentina, and Jamaica, Sonja Wolf’s research takes us to a country closer to the United States, where forced deportation has brought with it US gang culture. Charting the limited success of NGOs in influencing El Salvador’s security policies, the book brings to light key contextual aspects—including myopic media coverage and the ironic populist support for ARENA, despite the party’s protection of the elite at the expense of the greater society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477311219
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Publication date: 01/31/2017
Pages: 322
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Sonja Wolf is a CONACYT research fellow with the Drug Policy Program at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas.

Table of Contents

1. Power, Politics, and Exclusion
2. Mano Dura
3. Creating Folk Devils
4. Contesting Mano Dura
5. Peer Rehabilitation and Empowerment
6. Reason, Religion, and Loving Kindness

What People are Saying About This

Jose Miguel Cruz

"This book significantly contributes to our understanding of the dynamics of the implementation of draconian anti-gang policies in underdeveloped and politically transitional countries."

Thomas Bruneau

"Mano Dura provides a new and elevated standard for future analysis of the gang phenomenon throughout El Salvador. Superb research."

Customer Reviews