Gangs are popularly considered to be the major security threat facing the Central American region. In focusing on the origins and dynamics of gangs in the region, this article seeks to broaden conceptualizations of non-state armed groups by expanding the theoretical optic from a narrow focus on war and post-war contexts to a wider spectrum of settings, actors, and motivations. It highlights a category of actors that does not explicitly seek to overthrow the state, but rather progressively undermines or assumes certain state functions. The article also reveals how efforts to contain and regulate gangs flow from their imputed motives, with interventions influenced by whether they are conceived as a criminal or political threat. At the same time, coercive regulation tend to be favoured even when such repressive interventions exacerbate gang violence, for reasons that reveal the deeper underlying political, social, and economic challenges facing the Central American regio
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