Trinidad and Tobago's Works and Transport Minister, Rohan Sinanan

Authorities in Trinidad and Tobago say gangs are behind the rampant extortion of contractors carrying out public works projects, highlighting the many ways criminal groups can exploit this source of state funding for their own purposes. 

Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan said criminal groups are demanding that construction and road maintenance contractors pay a "coward tax," reported the Trinidad Guardian

"There are some rogue elements who are threatening the contractors," said Sinanan. "And it is happening all over Trinidad. It has been happening for a while now." 

A source close to Trinidad and Tobago Contractors' Association told the Trinidad Guardian that the gangs supply the contractors with lists of people who they want to work on the projects. The gang leaders reportedly charge $3,000 for each name on the list. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion 

"Most times the names on the list are people who are associated with a gang," the source said. "These gang members would just come on the job and do nothing. Others would not come at all and collect a salary at the end of the week. They operate as a ghost gang."

The source said the contractors must also pay the gangs to ensure their equipment isn't damaged once the project is finished, "so it's extortion all around."

One contractor who was either unable or unwilling to pay the extortion fee was reportedly forced to abandon a project last month after receiving death threats.

InSight Crime Analysis

This case illustrates a few of the numerous ways criminal groups and corrupt officials can insert themselves into the process of awarding and carrying out public works projects. Even in Trinidad in Tobago, which is not known to have a strong organized crime presence, disputes between gangs vying for community development projects have led to flare-ups of violence in the past.

In other parts of Latin America, especially Central America's Northern Triangle region (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador), public works contracts underpin much of the corruption involving political elites. 

In El Salvador, state contracts appear to have been a central element of secret negotations between gang leaders and government officials. A video released last year shows El Salvador's current Interior Minister Aristides Valencia offering the leaders of the Barrio 18 and MS13 up to $10 million in microcredit for businesses run by the gangs and their families. While it's not clear what the authorities asked for in return, Valencia had previously been recorded discussing an electoral pact with the gang leaders in the run-up to the 2014 presidential election. 

Meanwhile in Honduras, a leader of the Cachiros drug clan recently testified in a US court that former President Porfirio Lobo awarded his group government contracts in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

But nowhere have public works contracts been so closely intertwined with corruption than in Guatemala. Officials routinely used no-bid contracts to buy and sell political favors, in the process helping to create a mafia state that was only recently dismantled.

Investigations

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

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

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.

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

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...

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...

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...

'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...

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...

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...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...