Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime
Extorsion in 
Central America

Extortion Latest News

Four competing drug cartels are extorting avocado producers in Michoacán, Mexico, showing how the fruit is becoming an increasingly important source of illicit profits in the context of shifting criminal dynamics in the state.

Colombia loan sharks have expanded across Latin America

A Colombian gang leader has been accused of operating a "gota a gota" loansharking network in Chile -- evidence that this extortion tactic continues to spread across the region.

A series of attacks and threats against Argentine merchants by Chinese criminal organizations in Buenos Aires reveal a possible expansion of the mafia’s criminal tactics and the difficulties authorities are facing in stopping them. 

Two public transport vehicles were robbed and then set ablaze in Mexico City due to the failure of workers to pay extortion fees, illustrating how public transport workers and their passengers are on the frontlines of extortion-related violence in Mexico.

Mapping Extortion in the Northern Triangle

Datos reportados

The Northern Triangle

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Tasa de extorsión
El Salvador

Case Studies

Criminal Actors

Cities and Extortion

Extortion Stories

Extortion Explainers

northern triangle map

The Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are now home to some of the most sophisticated extortion schemes in Latin America. The birth of these extortion markets is intertwined with the beginnings of the region’s two most dangerous gangs: the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18).

monja blanca buses

The Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and 18th Street Gang’s (Barrio 18) primary criminal economy is extortion, or what they call rent. In the early 1990s, when the gangs first formed among Salvadoran deportees, gang members shook down shops or merchants for a “cora” — slang for the American quarter — at a time.

cellphone in hand picture

A cheap phone and a few dollars’ worth of prepaid credit serve as the rudimentary tools of extortionists in Northern Triangle countries. Here are some of the most common schemes at their disposal.

el salvador police man picture

Extortion spurs violence in Northern Triangle countries, which consistently have some of the highest murder rates in Latin America. But it is destructive in other insidious ways as well.

Extortion News

Honduras Gangs Turn to Bus Workers to Collect Extortion Fees

Street gangs in Honduras are forcing transport workers to participate in extortion rackets, highlighting the vulnerability of a group already hit hard by such gangs.

El Salvador’s MS13: ‘We Trust in God and Nayib Bukele’

The online magazine Revista Factum interviewed a spokesperson for the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) who spoke on behalf of the entire gang. In this interview

MS13 Grows Extortion Empire Through Honduras Mototaxi Fleet

The MS13 in Honduras has gone from shaking down motorcycle taxi drivers to owning fleets of the bikes and controlling the organizations that license them, showing the evolution of the gang's extortion rackets.

In Colombia, Loan Sharking is Now Just a Click Away

The longtime loan sharking tactic in Colombia known as “gota a gota,” or drop by drop, has entered the digital age -- as  criminal groups are now using mobile apps to hide money transfers, charge customers and threaten those who cannot pay.

Cartel Extortion Getting Worse for Businesses in Mexico City

Petty extortion has plagued business in Mexico City for years, but the recent killing of a local community leader angry at authorities’ inaction underscores the growing brazenness of such criminal activity in the capital.

ELN Still Receiving Payments from Companies in Colombia

The recent arrest of an Argentine businessman, accused of financing the ELN in Colombia between 2011 and 2015, has brought the ongoing ties between criminal groups and companies into the spotlight.

This page is the result of a joint investigation by InSight Crime and the Global Initiative on Organized Crime looking at the plague of extortion across Central America. This extensive research project charts the actors behind this varied criminal market and a range of responses by the authorities while presenting alternative thinking on how to face this threat.