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El Salvador’s Kill Zone

Warring gangs have turned the country into one of the world’s deadliest places

When new recruits join the brutal Mara Salvatrucha gang in El Salvador, seasoned members haze the newcomers by beating them in a harrowing ritual. The initiation is said to symbolize a recruit’s commitment to what they call his new family. It also prepares gang members for the dual roles they will face going forward, that of both victimizer and victim. Many of the dead in El Salvador’s current epidemic of murder are gang members themselves.

“Since we were children, we have witnessed these scenes—scenes that never end, that come every day. There are deaths, bodies thrown out, decapitations,” says Marvin González, 32, who leads a faction of Mara Salvatrucha in the town of Ilopango, a few miles east of …


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