‘Teen Gang Fighting Honduras Maras for Extortion Profits’

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Criminal gangs are fighting for control over extortion rackets throughout the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, according to local reports, pointing to the high value of these so-called “war taxes.”

According to national newspaper La Tribuna, a local street gang known as the Chirizos, whose members are almost all underage, is fighting the “mara” band Barrio 18 for control over extorting businesses in the capital’s western district of Comayaguela. The businesses at risk include neighborhood stores and markets, which are pressured to pay a “war tax” to these criminal organizations.

The Chirizos already collect weekly extortion payments from the city’s transport sector, La Tribuna reported. But the Comayaguela market district — which includes seven markets with more than 5,000 stalls, bringing in over $50,000 per week — is proving to be particularly attractive to extortion collectors. Tensions over who controls the Comayaguela “tax” has led the Chirizos and Barrio 18 to clash openly in the city streets, according to the newspaper.

The criminal organizations reportedly “tax” businesses according to how much profit they make. A small shop or market stall must pay around $7.50 a week, larger ones $10, and shop owners $15. At certain times of the year — usually around the holiday season — gangs may demand double the normal extortion fee, or an additional “bonus” payment.

InSight Crime Analysis

A survey last year found that 90 per cent of Honduran businesses have experienced security threats, mostly in the form of extortion. The two principal maras, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, both rely heavily on extortion as a form of income, and it is the bread and butter of smaller gangs such as the Chirizos. As the Associated Press reported last year, it is not just businesses that are threatened: in many parts of Tegucigalpa, homeowners are forced to pay a separate cash “tax” in order to live safely in their houses. 

Extortion is just one symptom of Honduras’ security woes. Endemic corruption throughout the security forces, widespread poverty, political divisions, lax gun laws and the nation’s growing importance in the transnational drugs trade have combined to create a violent crime epidemic.

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