Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime
Extorsion in 
Central America

Extortion Latest News

A criminal group in Argentina has found a novel target for extortion: black market currency dealers who are moving large amounts of cash to dollar-hungry Argentines in an economy hit hard by the pandemic.

Police in Guatemala say the economic pressures stemming from the coronavirus lockdown are exacerbating internal divisions within the Barrio 18 street gang, a symptom of the structural weaknesses that have long affected the group.

The measures in the fight against the coronavirus in Central America have caused two starkly different reactions from criminal groups, some are continuing to extort local populations while others have decided to waive payments for the time being.

Social leaders across Colombia were murdered at an almost unprecedented rate in 2019, and for a wide range of causes. Criminal gangs seeking to protect their illegal economies, such as drug traffickers and illegal mining, have been the main culprits.

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

‘Gota a Gota’ Extortionists Expand in Bolivia by Preying on Venezuela...

Bolivian authorities were taken by surprise on November 7, 2018, when they captured three Venezuelans during an operation to dismantle a "gota a gota" loan shark network, a criminal activity connected to Colombian mafias.

Half of Extortion Calls in Guatemala Are Made from One Prison

New data in Guatemala has revealed that almost half of all extortion phone calls originate from a single place: the country’s largest prison.

Can Armed Soldiers Really Solve El Salvador’s Coffee Woes?

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.

Cops Battle Their Own As Extortion Spikes in Guatemala

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.

Gangs Launch Grenades at Shops in Zulia, Venezuela

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.

Mexico’s Oil Thieves Have Moved Into Extortion in Guanajuato

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.

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.