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Last Updated: 06/06/2006
The Truth about Mano Dura
Benjamin Hess

Some Central American countries have responded to escalating gang violence by passing hard-line measures designed to control the violence with more law enforcement. But a few years into those mano dura policies, one thing is clear: they're not working.

(1) Clare Ribando, “Gangs in Central America,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 9 January 2005,, p. 2.

(2) United States Agency for International Development, “Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment”, April 2006,, p. 20.

(3) Washington Office on Latin America, “Voices from the Field: Local Initiatives and New Research on Central American Youth Gang Violence,” 23 February 2005,, p. 14.

(4) Fundación Arias para la Paz y el Progreso Humano, La cara de la violencia urbana en América Central (San José: Fundación Arias para la Paz y el Progreso Humano, 2006), 11.

(5) Ribando, 1.

(6) Ibid., 3.

(7) Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, “Gangs Roil Central America; Troubles Linked to US Deportees,” The Boston Globe, 17 April 2006, p. A.1.

(8) Ribando, 3.

(9) Taryn Lesser, “Transnational Gangs: Breaking the Cycle,” Human Rights Tribune (2006),, p. 2.

(10) “Most of 14,000 Gang Members Arrested in El Salvador Were Released,” EFE News Service, 27 December 2005.

(11) United Nations Development Programme, Democracy in Latin America: Towards a Citizens’ Democracy (Buenos Aires: Aguilar, Altea, Taurus, Alfaguara, 2005), 127.

(12) Lesser, 3.

(13) Fundación Arias para la Paz y el Progreso Humano, 247.

(14) Ibid., 46.

(15) David Adams, “The Gangs of Central America; to L.A. and Back,” St. Petersburg Times, 17 April 2006, p. 1A.

(16) Lakshmanan, A.1.

(17) Ibid., A.1.

(18) Tatiana Benavides, Lecture, 25 May 2006, San Jose, Costa Rica: University for Peace.

(19) Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2000), 141.

(20) Lesser, 2.

(21) Ribando, 5.

(22) Joe Mozingo, “President Softens His Stance on Gangs,” The Miami Herald, 13 April 2006, p. 1.

(23) Lesser, 4.

Benjamin Hess is a Master's candidate at the University for Peace, studying International Peace Studies.