Francisco Campos holds a candle in a jail in Villa Nueva, a poor neighborhood of Guatemala City. He is a member of the Mara Salvatrucha, captured extorting money from the buses in the area, which pay 2 dollars a day for protection. May, 2003
A gang member of the Mara 18, best known as EL Criminal poses for the press after being detained by the police in Guatemala City, 2005.
El Guero smokes a cigarette in front of a mural commemorating the deaths of fellow gang members killed in fights with rival gang Mara 18 and in shootouts with police, in Guatemala City, 2003
Isais, 21, prays in an evangelical church. Gang members that convert to christianity are permitted by gang code to leave the gang, one of the few ways to leave the gang family, 2003
El Psycho and El Chapin share smoke from a joint in Guatemala City, 2003
The Soldier, leader of a Salvatrucha band in the neighborhood Villa Nueva, kisses his son Castulo, in Guatemala City, 2003.
El Chapin kisses his pregnant wife Maira. October, 2003.
Guadalupe, 17, makes up next to her window broken by gun shots in EL Mezquital. 2005
Jesus Hernandez, 19, a gang member of Mara Salvatrucha is forced to show his tatooes in El Mezquital. 2005.
Gang members are held at a police station in Villa Nueva neighborhood, Guatemala City. 2003.
A photojournalist punches a gang member as policemen transfer him to another jail in Escuintla. 2005.
The hand of a dead inmate is seen at the local morgue after a prison riot caused by a fight between rival gangs in Escuintla, Guatemala. 2005.
Ingrid Liliana Castro holds the t-shirt full of blood of his husband, Mario Roberto Diaz, disapeared being wounded by unkonwn persons in La Esperanza, a poor neighbourhood in Guatemala City, 2005.
The head of a decapitated gang member is seen in the playground after a prision riot in Guatemala City, 2005.
A gang members play cards next to the coffin of Blacky, a 19 years old gang member brutaly killed by unknown persons in Villa Nueva, 2005
An undentified person, member of the gang Mara Salvatrucha, eats a candle during the celebrations of Maximon, a pagan saint venerate more in Mayan comunities. 2005
Gangs originated among Salvadorans who settled in Los Angeles, California, fleeing the war in their country, as a means of protection from Mexican gangs. Peace accords were signed in El Salvador in 1992, and US immigration authorities immediately began deporting gang members. The gang model quickly took root in Central American countries that were emerging from decades of brutal civil wars.
Since then, Guatemala and El Salvador have earned the dubious distinction of being two of the most violent countries in the world. Police brutality and extra-judicial killings are commonplace; as the State attempts to respond to mounting pressure to address high crime rates, particularly gang violence. Youth gangs play a dual role, as willing functionaries of organized crime networks and their convenient criminal scapegoats.