Marielitos (gangs)

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FoundedEarly 1980s
Founding locationUnited States
Years active1980s-present
Criminal activitiesDrug trafficking, Arms trafficking, Gambling, Bookmaking, Contract Killing
AlliesAmerican Mafia, Colombian cartels, Mexican Cartels, the Corporation

Marielitos is the name given to the Cuban immigrants that left Cuba from the Port of Mariel in 1980. Approximately 135,000 people left the country to the United States from April to September in what became known as the Mariel boatlift.[1]


While there already was, largely successful, Cuban emigration to the United States before the 1980s, the third and most well-known wave of Cuban emigration was in 1980. The Cuban government permitted approximately 125,000 Cubans to board a decrepit fleet of boats in Mariel Harbor; of the 125,000 refugees that entered the United States on the boatlift, around 16,000 to 20,000 were estimated to be criminals or "undesirables"[2] according to a 1985 Sun Sentinel magazine article. In a 1985 report around 350 to 400 Mariel Cubans were reported to inhabit Dade County jails on a typical day.[3] However, Demetrio Perez, the city commissioner of Miami, had said "...That even among those Marielitos who had criminal records, there were thousands whose offenses were so minor that they would not be considered criminals here, and thousands of others whose ‘criminal record’ was based on their opposition to the Communist regime."[2] Estimates assert that the Cuban refugees only included some 2,700 hardened criminals.[4]


Marielito crime gangs consist of generally male Cubans. Many of the original Marielitos have specific tattoos, displaying patron saints, names, words or arcane symbols. Marielito gang members, White as well as Afro-Cubans, are members of Afro Cuban religious cults engaged in religious rituals often resulting in self-inflicted bodily scars.[1] While the original Marielito gang members came to the US in the 1980s, younger Cuban-Americans living in impoverished neighborhoods may imitate the rituals of the original Marielito criminals.


Marielito crime groups are mostly involved in drug trafficking and contract killing, although prostitution, corruption, extortion, robbery, burglary, auto theft and money laundering are also activities of choice.[1] In some cases they have aligned themselves with American Mafia families and Colombian cartels to set up drug pipelines and working for them as enforcers. Marielito gang activity isn't as endemic as it was in the 80's, but Marielito gangs are still active in Los Angeles, Washington and New York City (especially the South Bronx).[4]


  1. ^ a b c George A. Manning, P.D.C.F.E.E.A. (2010). Financial Investigation and Forensic Accounting, Third Edition. Taylor & Francis. p. 204. ISBN 9781439825662. Retrieved 2015-08-13.
  2. ^ a b Bailey, Jason (April 20, 2018). "Revisiting the Controversy Surrounding Scarface". Vulture. Retrieved June 3, 2020.
  3. ^ Springer, Katie (26 September 1985). "Five Years Later, Overriding Crime Is Mariel Legacy". Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b Shanty, F.; Mishra, P.P. (2008). Organized Crime: From Trafficking to Terrorism. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 461. ISBN 9781576073377. Retrieved 2015-08-13.