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Corrupt State Actors


Although gangs dominate the extortion markets in Central America, corrupt state agents will collude with them and even run some of their own extortion schemes. 

The institutionalized extortion of inmates occurs throughout the region. In chaotic prisons, inmates have had to buy access to even the most basic services and commodities. Everything has a price: sleeping spaces, cellphones, food, visitation rights. Prison guards and administrators take their cut from this extortion market.

Authorities can also coerce extortion payments by threatening arrest.

*This investigation into extortion in the Northern Triangle was carried out as part of a joint project with the Global Initiative.

In Panama City, sex workers have denounced police who extorted cash or free sexual services in exchange for not detaining them. Although there are reports of similar incidents throughout the region, schemes that victimize sex workers appear to be problematic in Panama.

In El Salvador, growing ties between local politicians and street gangs looking to expand their political and social influence have produced at least one known case of institutionalized extortion. In exchange for gang support during local elections, a former mayor of the Apopa municipality increased taxes on market stores and transferred the extra cash to the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13). 

In Honduras, people fear going to the police about extortion threats, due to the very real risk of their information being leaked to the gangs. In certain areas of the country, the police have reportedly given free rein to gangs to extort in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.

*This investigation into extortion in the Northern Triangle was carried out as part of a joint project with the Global Initiative.

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