Posts Tagged ‘Mara Salvatrucha’

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Central American gangs cash in from extortion

July 29, 2014

Guatemalan crooks net $61 million annually

Contributing to the exodus from the Northern Triangle to the U.S. border, gangs and copycat criminals are shaking down Central American businessmen for hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Guatemalans alone are being hosed for $61 million a year according to that country’s interior ministry.  Shares of the extortion proceeds are sent up the chain of command to key regional gangs including Barrio 18, Mara Salvatrucha, and Los Paisas, which perpetuates the cycle of violence.

Previous attempts to bring the extortion rackets under control have been unsuccessful.

The violence and extortion problem contribute to the flight of illegal immigrants toward North America.  Human smuggling “coyotes” have successfully recruited children to make the trip, telling them that they would be granted legal status in the U.S. based on the Obama administration’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” policy.  Besides, there are few opportunities locally other than joining up with the gangsters and extortionists.

The U.S., Mexico, and Northern Triangle countries have to take the extortion developments very seriously.  It’s not just political and it’s not just about illegal immigration.  Unchecked extortion can be a key driver in spinning a society out of control.

The amount of money involved is a growing and significant factor.  The Central American gangs don’t have as much money yet as the FARC in Columbia, but they’re getting closer to that level.

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Extortion crackdown on gangs backfires

June 22, 2014

Extortion, zakat, jizya, revolutionary taxation—these are all basic means of collecting revenues to fund militant groups, and each method carries its own religious and ideological justification.

The problem is that once a group entrenches itself in a weak state and begins consistently making successful extortion demands against local businessmen, the phenomenon becomes very difficult to stop. This has been illustrated in Spain by ETA, by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by guerrillas in the Philippines.

One method to combat such extortion networks is “decapitation,” that is, simply taking the senior leaders of the extortion rackets out of the picture. But analysis by InSight Crime of the unraveling crackdown against extortion networks of Central American gangs shows why that may not always be the smoothest tactic:

Honduras Extortion Gangs Undergoing Violent Leadership Crisis

Police in Honduras say moves to block cell phone signals in prisons have weakened the control of the incarcerated heads of extortion gangs, leading to increased violence as gangs fragment and mid-level operators compete for control of the market.

Officials from the anti-extortion unit of the Honduran police told El Heraldo that many gang leaders had lost control of their subordinates on the outside as they had been isolated by the shutting down of phone signals in jails.

According to the police, lower-level gang members have been running their own unauthorized extortion operations and withholding money from leaders. This has led to the fragmentation of some of the main extortion gangs, as well as revenge killings over unpaid money.

An additional problem is that gang members on the outside tend to be much younger, less experienced and more prone to making mistakes than the leaders, say police.

The main three gangs behind extortion in Honduras were the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), Barrio 18 and Los Chirizos…

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Lessons in extortion by El Salvador’s gangs

July 14, 2013

Although the gangs may not be using the proceeds to fund international terrorism, the shakedowns of local businessmen are very reminiscent of terrorist fundraising activity by ETA in Spain and by Islamist militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Iraq.

InSight Crime has the analysis, which may provide some useful lessons for counter-terror finance analysts:

2 Businesses Per Week Shut Down by Extortion in El Salvador

Around 70 percent of the 11,730 businesses registered with the National Council for Small Businesses (Conapes) reported being extorted by gangs, according to the group’s director Ernesto Vilanova.

The head of El Salvador’s Chamber of Commerce, Federico Hernandez, confirmed the practice is widespread and said extortion, along with the government failing to pay contractors on time, is the main factor behind an increase in closures of small and micro-businesses — classified as businesses employing between one and 50 people.

Hernandez said the Chamber had registered a rapid acceleration in the number of businesses forced to close over the last five months and that the situation was worse now than at any point in his four-year stint at the head of the organization.

According to Vilanova, despite the truce between the two street gangs behind most of the extortion, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, there is little optimism in the business community that the situation will improve. “This is never going to end,” he said. “They arrest three, but there are thousands more out there.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The comments made by the two Salvadoran business organizations highlight the crippling economic impact of extortion, especially in developing economies where most opportunities for employment are with small and micro-businesses.

Worryingly, they also add weight to reports that the since the gang truce, far from leading to a reduction has actually seen an increase in extortion…

This ongoing problem illustrates that gang war truces may not be as effective as everybody hoped for, especially when the underlying reason for the conflict isn’t addressed.  Will this be a lesson for those seeking to broker a truce with the Taliban?  Or will we look back months after a “peace deal” is signed and wonder why ordinary Afghan businessmen and farmers are being ripped off once again by the tax men of the Taliban?