El Flaco, as we call him here, was member of Mara Salvatrucha for 18 years, before quitting two years ago. He's 26, was born in El Salvador — and claims to have killed 22 people. Following are excerpts from an interview with NPR's John Burnett.
I was part of the Mara Salvatrucha, a gang which started in the United States and then went to El Salvador. The truth is, I want to leave because I was tired of harming the people. There's a certain limit to where you get tired of doing bad things to people. I'm tired of living this life. I haven't found the love of a mother or a father. I looked for it, but it was difficult to find. Also, I left the gang for the benefit of my daughter, Sandra, who's three years old.
Our slogan was "Vivo por mi madre, muero por mi barrio." "I live for my mother, and I die for my barrio."
What sorts of crimes did I commit? Various. Honestly, I considered crime my salary. We had a satanic cult in which we killed people. For example, we'd take out the heart, and eat it. Then we'd cut up the body leave it in bags on the corner. That's what we did.
It's no joke. In MS-13, we sold our souls to the devil, practically, so that he'll give us everything we need. We sacrificed everybody, including innocent women and children. Every month or two we had to do a ritual. So we looked for somebody, grabbed them at midnight, killed them and took out their heart.
We fried the heart, on the griddle. We used a little salt. The flavor is so-so, like a stew but without much flavor.
We had a saying, if you don't pay, we won't hurt the father. Sadly, it's the children who will pay. That's what we told the father. And we fulfilled our threat and killed children.
We demanded extortion from stores, buses and people. We'd surveil their kids, then we sent them a letter demanding 40,000, 50,000 or 100,000 quetzales (from $500 to $13,000) depending on what kind of business it was and how much they made. If he didn't pay, we'd kidnap his wife or kids and kill them. We'd send body parts to him to show him we meant business, and then we'd keep kidnapping his family members until he paid.
How did it feel to kill kids? On the one hand, I felt bad. On the other hand, if we didn't do it, they (gang leaders) would kill us.
We spent our money on arms, drugs, we sent money to our brothers in jail. The type of drugs we used was marijuana, heroin, cocaine, hashish, and prescription drugs.
We lived in a house of homies. We built our own house. To hide from the cops, whatever.
There were lots of rumbles between gangs, with Uzis and all kinds of guns. Their territory was only three blocks away from ours. They couldn't come onto our territory and we couldn't go onto theirs.
We also extorted members of our own barrio — 40,000 quetzales a month ($5,200) from families. We offered protection, we didn't bother them, and they wouldn't tell on us. If they didn't pay we'd kill them. Most of them paid.
We weren't afraid of the police. We made sure the police didn't bother us, but if they came we'd meet them with bullets. The police don't like gang members and we don't like them either. The police wanted to kill all of us and we wanted to kill all of them.
The police didn't like us because we f--- up the people. We bother them, we extort, kill anyone in front of us. So with the police we had a rivalry. They didn't like us and we didn't like them.
Los Angeles de la Noche (the Angels of the Night) is a group of police agents who travel in armored cars at night. They kill our homies. The people ask them to because the people get really tired of us f---ing them over, so they talk with the police and they send Los Angeles, and they kidnap you and kill you.
Some police are involved with maras (gangs), assaulting armored cars, robbing trailers and everything. But the majority are not involved. They try to kidnap us, stop our work. But they'll never succeed because the delinquency will only grow.
Maras are growing all the time because most young people today, what they're looking for is the love of a father and a mother, and they don't get that in their homes so they look for that in a gang. But if you're looking for a family, you'll be deceived. All you get from a gang is income, brutality and scars.
I think we all deserve a chance in this life. Sadly, many of those who join gangs don't have the love of a father or a mother in our home, we were mistreated. I think what they (police) do instead of helping they're destroying our lives. They should be opening factories for work. We're looking for society to accept us, not reject us. I think we deserve a second chance. No one has the right to take another's life. We'll have to pay.
I have various friends who've been killed by sicarios (private hired guns). They killed a companero in El Mesquital, Zona 2, named Blodi. He was 22. The sicarios cut off his head and hands. They left his body in a gulley. He was a gang member, but he'd left the gang.
The sicarios travel at night and kidnap people. They're ex-police who loan their services to the community. They kill people for pay. They get 15,000 to 30,0000 quetzales ($2,000 to 4,000) per victim. Sometimes they cut out the eyes, the tongue, the hands.
On the one hand, I'm afraid of the sicarios, but all in all I know what I've done to people and the same could happen to me. But I don't go out alone. They'll have to get me.
The civilian security patrols (that formed to rid provincial towns of gangs) are effective. We don't mix up with those people because we know they'll catch us and set us on fire alive. In Quiche, they've done this. We don't go to the provinces, for example, San Juan, Xela, San Lucas, we don't mess with those people. They're unified. They'll catch you, throw on gasoline, and that's it.
They killed my brother this way. He was in our gang and he died this way, in Santa Cruz del Quiche. Juan Carlos was my younger brother, 14 years old. We had sent 10 gang members to Santa Cruz to work that barrio. Of the 10 we sent, only two returned. We sent them there to organize Mara Salvatrucha in Santa Cruz. What we look for is to extend our reach into every barrio, so we can grow.
They don't lynch us here in Guatemala City. People are afraid of us here. They're intimidated.