Police recover a home taken by Tegucigalpa gangs

Tegucigalpa residents say that police work with gangs that go door-to-door to collect extortion fees of nearly $80 per month, in an example of the involvement of security forces in organized crime in Honduras.

According to an investigation by El Heraldo, residents of numerous Tegucigalpa neighborhoods are forced to pay gangs a monthly fee of $50 to $77. Residents told the newspaper that police, often seen conversing with neighborhood gangs, are involved in the extortion.

The report identifies four methods gangs use to collect their payments: going door-to-door to demand money, slipping collection envelopes under the door, making threatening phone calls, and kidnapping family members. 

Many residents, unable to pay the sums demanded, have been displaced and their homes taken over by criminals. One man told the newspaper that he was forced to flee with his family after being ordered to pay nearly $20,700, and that his home is now being used by local drug dealers.

Honduran authorities reported that so far in 2013 they have received 291 reports of extortion in these neighborhoods, arrested 90 suspects and brought 39 cases to court, and that they have disbanded 12 of the groups responsible.

InSight Crime Analysis

Collecting fees from neighborhoods they control is common practice for gangs in Honduras, who rely on extortion as a primary source of revenue. The Honduran branches of street gangs Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) target taxi and bus drivers and local businesses as well as residents, referring to the charges as a "war tax." There have also been reports of local youth street gangs fighting these larger "maras" for a share of the gains.

The police are often little help, as some elements in the force are heavily involved in organized crime, including contract killing and drug dealing, and indeed may be behind some of the extortion rackets, as El Herald reports.