Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime
Extorsion in 
Central America
THE GLOBAL INITIATIVE
AGAINST TRANSNATIONAL
ORGANIZED CRIME

Extortion Latest News

El Salvador officials have announced the deployment of more than 3,000 troops to protect coffee farms from theft -- a puzzling move, given that crop theft is not considered one of the major threats to the country’s coffee industry.

Police officers on patrol in Guatemala came under fire as they investigated colleagues for allegedly demanding payments from local gang members, underscoring the breadth of extortion in the Central American nation.

In the northern Venezuela state home to the city of Maracaibo, gangs are taking an extremely violent measure against business owners who refuse to pay extortion: attacking them with what appear to be grenades.

While the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel has faced the brunt of the Mexican government’s war against oil theft, it has used its clout in the state of Guanajuato to fall back on another successful criminal economy: intimidation and extortion.

Mapping Extortion in the Northern Triangle

Datos reportados
Vacío
Bajo
Alto

The Northern Triangle

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Comparación
Pais
Tasa de extorsión
Homicidios
Honduras
75
5
El Salvador
75
5
Guatemala
75
5

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

The Criminal Portfolio of the Ex-FARC Mafia

With Colombia now producing more cocaine than ever before, the rise of illegal mining, as well as widespread extortion, the ex-FARC mafia has all the resources it needs to rebuild itself into a national force.

More than 500 Venezuela Security Officials Involved in Extortion, Kidnappings

More than ten percent of extortion and kidnapping cases recorded in Venezuela involve members of the police and military, demonstrating the country’s continuing struggle with criminality in the security forces.

Argentina Taxi Mafias Spreading in Buenos Aires

Argentina has dismantled a gang focused on extorting taxi drivers at Buenos Aires’ main bus station, the second such incident in 2019. This raises fears that the taxi extortion racket, most commonly associated with Guatemala or Honduras, may have found a new home.

Mexico’s Cartels Fighting It Out for Control of Avocado Business

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

Colombia’s ‘Gota a Gota’ Loan Sharks Exploit Chile Market

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.

Chinese Mafia Moving Beyond Extorting Argentina’s Supermarkets

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. 

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.