Extortion in Honduras Capital Shutting Stores, Causing Migration

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A new report says that thousands of corner stores have closed in Honduras’ capital in the past two years due to extortion and pushing residents to flee, a stark example of the economic impact the racket can have on business owners and the economy.

According to authorities from the Honduras Consumers Association (Asociación de Consumidores y Usuarios de Honduras – ACONSUMEH), more than 1,500 corner stores, popularly known as “pulperías,” have closed in the last two years in Tegucigalpa due to extortion. The report says that this accounts for 30 percent of all pulperías in the capital, El Heraldo reported

Moreover, some 600 pulperías have closed in the capital due to extortion between January and June of this year, 30 percent of which are estimated to have not reopened, according to municipal authorities.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion 

Fifty percent of store owners reported closing due to a lack of business and bankruptcy, 30 percent due to a change of address, and 20 percent for no apparent reason at all, according to El Heraldo. 

Gang members typically extort store owners for between 200 and 600 lempiras (between $8.50 and $25) per month, according to El Heraldo. However, the charges can be much higher. A small corner store owner identified by El Heraldo as “Maria” was forced to relocate after criminals demanded she pay 50,000 lempiras (around $2,100). 

“That moment for me was like a death sentence,” she told El Heraldo. “With newspaper letters, the criminals asked me to pay the first installment the next day. All I thought about was leaving with my kids.” 

InSight Crime Analysis 

The scale of small business closures in Honduras’ capital is nothing short of a national emergency, as each closed business likely affects multiple families beyond just the store owners. Moreover, the latest report centers solely on small corner stores, suggesting that the impact of extortion may be much more widespread. And, as noted in El Heraldo’s report via the numerous testimonies collected, extortion is a major driver of migration. 

SEE ALSO: Gangs in Honduras

For most of Honduras’ street gangs — including the MS13 and Barrio 18 — controlling territory, in large part through extortion, is the bedrock of their criminal enterprises. And these extortion rackets don’t just focus on small business owners. For example, a 2016 InSight Crime investigation estimated that a single gang’s yearly earnings from extorting Tegucigalpa’s transportation sector can reach to more than $2.5 million. 

In 2016, Honduran authorities carried out a series of anti-extortion operations in an effort to combat the social and economic impacts extortion rackets have on society. But extortion appears to be continuing apace.

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