HomeInvestigationsCorrupt State Actors

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.

share icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

BARRIO 18 / 26 DEC 2022

El Salvador's ruthless gang crackdown has led to mass incarceration and human rights abuses. But will it be replicated elsewhere?…


Colombia's Urabeños, Mexico's Knights Templar and Honduras' Cachiros have been added to the US Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers list, meaning…

BOLIVIA / 20 JAN 2014

Honduras' congress has approved a drug plane shoot-down policy aimed at attacking the cocaine air bridge into the country, a…

icon #SupportFreePress

Support Our Work

Investigating organized crime is an expensive and often risky enterprise. Reaching primary sources and getting the real story involve extensive fieldwork. Please donate. Every dollar supports our mission.