Few Escape Extortion in Medellin, Colombia

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According to a Colombian business federation, 90 percent of small business owners in the Medellin area are victims of extortion, a figure that underscores both the prevalence of the crime and its enormous economic impact.

The director of the National Federation of Small Businesses (FENALCO) in Antioquia province, Sergio Soto, has reported that 90 percent of the 20,000 small businesses in the Aburra Valley, which includes Medellin, are forced to make weekly extortion payments of between $25 and $125, reported El Colombiano.

Soto stated that truck drivers and distributors are also targeted and some have to pay up to $500 a week. He estimated that gangs earn over $25 million a year from extorting businesses and distributors in the 10 municipalities that make up the Aburra Valley.

Soto added that he believes the other 10 percent of small business owners are also likely to be victims of extortion, but are afraid to report the crime. He called on authorities to create an anonymous reporting system so that business owners can report the crime without giving their names.

InSight Crime Analysis

Medellin is one of the Colombian cities that has been hardest hit by extortion, and the figures reported by FENALCO are indicative of just how widespread the phenomenon is in the city and surrounding area. According to a 2012 investigation by the Urban Conflict Consultancy Center, cited in El Colombiano’s report, extortion in the city affects all types of businesses and vendors, including prostitutes and individuals who sell cell phone minutes on the street.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

Although Soto did not specify which types of criminal groups were behind the extortion in the Aburra Valley, a special investigation conducted by El Tiempo found that in 83 percent of cases nationwide, extortion was carried out by “common criminals.” Only 6 percent of cases were perpetrated by larger criminal groups known as BACRIM (from the Spanish for “criminal bands”), according to the report.

Within the city of Medellin, much of the extortion is likely perpetrated by gangs, which tend to look for local revenue sources since they typically do not have the manpower or logistical organization to participate in drug trafficking and other more sophisticated criminal activities.

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