Abstract

A crisis of urban violence has emerged in northern Central America during the past two decades. Although youth gangs are responsible for only a portion of this violence, punitive approaches to dealing with gang violence have sharpened public hostility toward gang members and created a context conducive to the practice of “social cleansing” aimed at reducing gang violence by eliminating gang-affiliated youth through extrajudicial executions. Against this backdrop of public anger and resentment aimed at gang youth, a sizeable number of Evangelical-Pentecostal pastors and lay workers have developed ministries aimed at rescuing gang members and restoring them to society, often making considerable sacrifices and taking personal risks in the process. After describing the difficul-ties and risks associated with leaving the gang, this article takes a sociological approach to gang member conversions to discover the resources that Evangelical-Pentecostal congregations and gang ministries offer to former gang members facing the crisis of spoiled identity. I draw on semistructured interviews conducted in 2007 and 2008 with former gang members and gang ministry coordinators in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and a handful of follow-up interviews conducted in 2013.

Abstract

Una crisis de violencia urbana emergió en Centroamérica durante las pasadas dos décadas. Sólo una parte de esta violencia es producto de las pandillas juveniles (a veces llamadas maras), pero las pandillas ahora representan el blanco de mucha ira pública, y este enojo ha creado un contexto ideal para la práctica de la “limpieza social” de jóvenes sospechados de ser pandilleros. En este contexto de furor popular, algunas congregaciones evangélico-pentecostales han creado ministerios con el fin de “rescatar” a los pandilleros a través de la conversión religiosa y la transformación personal. Después de describir las dificultades y riesgos que acompañan salida de la pandilla, este artículo investiga el fenómeno de las conversiones religiosas entre los pandilleros de Centroamérica. Este análisis sociológico se basa en entrevistas semiestructuradas con ex pandilleros en El Salvador, Guatemala y Honduras realizadas en los años 2007 y 2008 además de algunas entrevistas de continuación realizadas en 2013.

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