Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Political Science

Major Professor

Harry E. Vanden, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Steven Roach, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wilson R. Palacios, Ph.D.


Dictators, Terror, Poverty, Migration, Migrants, Campesinos, Indians, Civil War, Procedural Democracy, Immigration, Maras, Laws


Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have experienced a history immersed in political, economical and violent turmoil that has resulted in centuries of unsettled government, weak economies, alienation, and exploitation of the masses. This turmoil dates back to Spanish forms of dictatorial rule in the sixteenth century, and English and German control of commodities and land during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Along with foreign influence, forms of dictatorial rule resulted in poor socioeconomic conditions, internal anarchy within Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and the onset of civil wars. During the Reagan Administration, the United States used these countries in Central America for strategic military, agricultural and political purposes. The poor economic and politically violent conditions continued, resulting in the formation of dangerous street gangs, youth groups violently taking control of territories and later engaging in drug trafficking. Presence of the United States military operations, the civil wars, namely the Nicaraguan Contra War throughout the Central American region, resulted in a variety of opportunities for immigrants, to migrate into the United States. Other opportunities included left over weapons by the United States military, guerillas and contras, which were used by these violent youth to intimidate the local governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and vi Honduras. However, after the Central American families migrated to avoid the poor conditions within these countries, some children became gang members due to lack of alternatives in the U.S. The U.S. authorities deported many of these youth back to their respective Central American countries because of the crimes they committed in the U.S. This deportation increased further political turmoil in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras such that these violent youth groups threaten procedural democracy from functioning. This thesis examines the historical evolution of first, second and third generation Central American street gangs, and the political violence they present in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.