Extortionists burn buses to intimidate victims

Statistics suggest that the Northern Triangle -- El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- constitutes the world's epicenter for extortion, illustrating the importance of street gangs and the extent this crime has taken root.

The statistics, compiled by La Prensa in Honduras, show that Salvadorans pay an estimated $400 million annually in extortion fees, followed by Hondurans, who pay an estimated $200 million, and Guatemalans, who pay an estimated $61 million. These figures may be higher given that extortion is one of the most underreported crimes. 

Public transportation is one of the most affected sectors, with buses and taxis annually paying an estimated $25 million in Honduras and $34 million in El Salvador, La Prensa said.

Small businesses are also hard hit. El Salvador’s small business association (CONAPES) estimated the economic sector it represents pays $30 million monthly to criminal organizations in extortion payments.

Poor neighborhoods in urban areas are particularly vulnerable, the newspaper noted. (See maps of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula below, which show where the newspaper says the transport sector is extorted)

According to La Prensa, extortionists employ similar strategies across the three countries, intimidating victims through death threats, burning or destroying the property of those who do not pay, or killing an employee or a relative of the owner of the business.

Over 300 workers in the Honduran transportation sector have been killed in the last four years, and more than 36 Salvadoran transportation workers have been killed in 2015 alone. Being a bus driver in Guatemala has also become an extremely dangerous professional occupation with hundreds being killed in the last decade.

Extortion in Honduran Cities

InSight Crime Analysis

What makes the Northern Triangle an extortion epicenter can be described in one word: gangs. In the last two decades, powerful local and regional street gangs have spread throughout the region. Most of them target small businesses and public transportation cooperatives for extortion

Honduran gangs, for instance, earn an estimated $54 million annually by charging a "war tax," the newspaper said. 

Jailing gang members en masse, the preferred approach of Northern Triangle governments to deal with gangs, has not slowed the rates of extortion. Many extortionists in the Northern Triangle simply operate from prison via cell phone.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion

Nonetheless, extortion is not unique to the Northern Triangle countries. On June 30, Colombian authorities arrested 27 members of an extortion ring, three of whom were conducting extortions from behind prison bars.

What's more, gangs are not the only groups extorting. As noted, Hondurans pay an estimated $200 million per year in extortion, only $54 million of which is going to the gangs. But authorities say other groups and individuals use the specter of gangs to scare people into paying extortion fees.   

Investigations

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

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power. In rural sectors, uniformed BACRIM armed with assault rifles still patrol in...

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...

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...

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...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

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: 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. 

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...