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

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.