ONLINE EVENT: Anatomy of MS-13 – Policy Implications for El Salvador and the US


Event Summary This event has passed.

The prevalence of criminal gangs in Central America’s Northern Triangle countries poses one of the most vexing challenges for policymakers seeking to strengthen security and governability in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The gangs have exacted an enormous human toll, and have been a major obstacle for economic progress in a region that is a significant source of migration to the United States. The gangs have been interpreted in different ways, sometimes to suit political agendas, which often fail to fully grasp their origins as a transnational phenomenon, complex causes, and consequences.  

In El Salvador, the infamous Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, which originated in Los Angeles, has wrought havoc and has been the focus of consecutive governments’ policies. President Nayib Bukele argues that declining homicide rates can be attributed to an effective crackdown on gangs, while reporting from the El Faro, the online investigative journalism site, has revealed secret negotiations between the government and imprisoned MS leaders, giving benefits in exchange for keeping murders in check.  

  • What is the history of MS-13?
  • How can we understand its origins, causes, and impacts both in Central America as well as the United States?
  • Why has it been so politically difficult for regional governments to devise more effective approaches to deal with MS-13 and other gangs?
  • What are the lessons for US policy moving forward?  

We are pleased to host a discussion addressing these and other key questions using the recent publication of Steve Dudley’s groundbreaking book, MS-13: The Making of America’s Most Notorious Gang as a point of departure. Dudley, a widely respected investigative journalist and founder of Insight Crime, will share the main findings of his comprehensive and detailed account.

Follow this event on Twitter at #TheMakingOfMS13 and @The_Dialogue.

We invite participants to submit questions using the Q&A function in Zoom, the event hashtag on Twitter OR to email questions to

Watch the event here:


Steven Dudley

Co-founder and Co-director, InSight Crime (@stevensdudley)


Sonja Wolf

Assistant Professor, Drug Policy Program at the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE), Mexico (@scwolf5)

Ricardo Zúñiga

Senior Diplomatic Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center


Michael Shifter

President, Inter-American Dialogue (@michaelshifter)