Guatemala Struggles to Prosecute Extortion in Capital

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A recent report on extortion in Guatemala indicates that the criminal practice is mostly an urban phenomenon perpetrated by gang members who act with little fear of consequence. 

The report by Movimiento Pro Justicia, an umbrella organization for civil society groups, analyzed complaints of extortion in Guatemala from 2013 through April of 2016.

The study found that 10,664 complaints of extortion were filed with the Attorney General’s Office, with the majority of the complaints coming from the three heavily urbanized departments of Guatemala, Mixco, and Villa Nueva. The department of Guatemala, home to the capital Guatemala City, registered 5,248 complaints, followed by Mixco with 1,391 and Villa Nueva with 1,382.

Few cases result in convictions. Of 5,248 complaints registered in Guatemala City, only 517 individuals were convicted of extortion during the same time period. Accounting for approximately 49 percent of all complaints, Guatemala City provides a good example of the overall environment of impunity surrounding these crime. Even after they are arrested, the relative lack of control within prisons allows criminals to extort victims from behind bars utilizing cell phones.

According to the prosecutor’s office, criminals use threats or perpetrate acts of violence to intimidate victims before handing over a cell phone through which the extortion demands are delivered by a third party. Public transportation and small businesses are often the most heavily affected sectors. While gangs are often times behind extortion, there are also many cases of other groups and individuals running extortion schemes.

InSight Crime Analysis

Massive underreporting has traditionally made quantifying the crime of extortion in Guatemala difficult.

The decentralized and, at times, informal network structure of gang cliques may be one reason that authorities  are finding it difficult to adequately prosecute extortion with their limited budgets.

   SEE MORE: Guatemala News and Profiles

Annual losses from extortion in Guatemala have been estimated at $61 million. Extortion is not unique to Guatemala and is pervasive in all three Northern Triangle countries, with annual losses valued at $400 million in El Salvador and $200 million in Honduras. These three countries represent the epicenter of criminal extortion in Central America. The practice has an adverse effect on the economy and degrades citizen security.

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