Gangs target students and schools for extortion

The temporary closing of a private school in Honduras may have been due to the imposition of what administrators are calling a "war tax," an illustration of how extortion negatively affects the daily life of so many in this Central American nation. 

Instituto Modelo, a private institute in the city of Comayagüela, says it has closed down for a week because of repairs, but extortion is also believed to have forced the school to shut its doors, reported La Tribuna.

"This problem of extortion in schools is old, because we have known about this situation for about eight to ten years," said Carlos Sabillón, president of the Association of Private Institutes of Honduras.

Sabillón explained that he had met with then-Security Minister Jorge Rodas Gamero several years ago, when extortionists were targeting the busses of private institutions. Although that problem eventually dissipated, the extortion networks started to call the schools demanding they pay a "war tax," Sabillón said.

The association president added that the government should be using the funds from a security tax to help protect against extortionists. 

"The government established the security rate, a tax that all Hondurans pay, so the least we expect is that they provide us security," he said. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have long been known as a hot spot for extortion in Latin America, and criminal networks extorting schools and students is nothing new. 

In El Salvador, extortion and gang threats reportedly affected 60 percent of the nation's schools last year, causing an estimated 39,000 children to drop out of school.   

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

The region's street gangs have consistently been involved in extortion due to the substantial amount of revenue it creates. In 2015, La Prensa reported that Honduran street gangs collected nearly $54 million through charging a "war tax." Small businesses and public transportation drivers are among the most frequent targets for extortion.  

Last year, Honduran authorities attempted to confront the economic and social toll extortion continues to have on society. A series of operations were carried out targeting extortion networks. For the first time ever, one of these operations seized assets allegedly obtained from extortion revenues.

It will be difficult to eradicate extortion completely given how embedded it is in Honduran society. Nonetheless, the government's approach of following the money will likely yield better results than its "Mano Dura" (Iron Fist) strategy of crushing the gangs by using brute force. 

Investigations

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