Guatemala Bus Extortion Case: Maras Adopting Zetas Methods?

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A group of Guatemala bus extortionists recently sentenced to prison were apparently paying a quota to street gangs, suggesting the Guatemalan Maras have adopted a territorial model associated with Mexico’s Zetas.

The group of ten people were found guilty of extorting thousands of dollars a month from bus owners and drivers, reported Prensa Libre. The court found the group charged bus owners around $2,000 monthly between 2009 and 2013, extorting a total of over $125,000. Two other extortion groups have also recently been convicted, with the three groups together charging bus owners and drivers over $6,400 monthly, according to investigators.

The extortion groups were giving some of the proceeds to Guatemala’s two principal Mara gangs, Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, as well as another group, known as Los Paisas.

InSight Crime Analysis

Extortion of public transport operators is a massive problem across Latin America, making it an extremely dangerous profession in which to work in certain countries, including Guatemala. Almost a hundred Guatemalan bus and taxi drivers were murdered in the first half of last year. The threats and killings have largely been attributed to the powerful Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs, for whom extortion is a principal source of income.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion

What’s interesting about this case is that the groups involved do not appear to be part of a street gang — rather they were allegedly paying those gangs a quota in order to operate. This suggests that the Mara gangs may be starting to adopt a territory-based model in which they control, and “tax” all criminal activity going on in a certain area without necessarily carrying it out themselves. While this is a model long used by the Italian mafia, in Latin America it is most closely associated with the Mexican criminal organization the Zetas, for whom it has proved extremely successful. The Zetas also used a “franchise” model, collecting fees from criminal groups which are allowed to use the Zetas name and reputation to conduct their own activities.

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