On Thursday, the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury added a Los Angeles-based street gang called MS-13 (aka Mara Salvatrucha) to its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List. MS-13 was designated a transnational criminal organization (TCO) by Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. This is the first time a street gang has been labeled a TCO and added to the SDN List. The designation allows the federal government to target MS-13's financial transactions and seize the millions of dollars it nets annually as a consequence of drug and sex trafficking.
MS-13 was established in Los Angeles in the early 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants who had fled El Salvador's civil war. (The war, which lasted from 1979 to 1992, resulted in the deaths of as many as 80,000 people--out of a population of under 5,000,000--and the disappearance of thousands more.) From Los Angeles, the gang spread to other U.S. cities with significant Salvadoran populations--notably Washington, D.C.--and to Central America. Today there are an estimated 30,000-50,000 gang members in over 40 U.S. states, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Canada.