HomeInvestigationsIndependent Criminal Groups
INVESTIGATIONS

Independent Criminal Groups

BARRIO 18 / LATEST UPDATE EN

The variety of extortionists in Central America speaks to the ease with which opportunists can set up their own schemes. Independent actors have taken advantage of the low barriers entry to this criminal market.

Some small gangs have attained territorial control of a few blocks whose residents they extort, using the model pioneered by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 – albeit on a smaller scale. In some parts of cities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, these independent gangs fight against the two dominant groups for control of territory and the extortion and micro-trafficking markets.

Some of these criminal opportunists, ironically, got their start as community self-defense groups that were formed to counter extortion and fight the gangs. Some vigilante groups (such as Los Pumas in the city of La Ceiba, Honduras) turned criminal over time and eventually set up their own extortion system by taxing locals in the name of security.

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

Other groups have mastered the basic modus operandi of making threatening phone calls and collecting the fees delivered via bank deposits, transfers and even cash. Given the Northern Triangle’s high overall levels of violence and the frequent killings of extortion victims who resist, individuals targeted by independent groups will tend to give in to whomever is threatening them.

In Costa Rica and Panama, where street gangs have not yet embraced mass extortion, independent groups are responsible for loan sharking schemes. These groups often dabble in drug trafficking or maintain ties with drug trafficking organizations, using the proceeds of drug sales to finance the abusive loans.

*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

COLOMBIA / 31 AUG 2015

A recent visit by El Salvador delegates to Colombia points to the limits of transferring Colombia's security strategies abroad.

BARRIO 18 / 20 SEP 2017

Officers of El Salvador's national police are allegedly running "clandestine jails" where they illegally hold suspected gang members, another indication…

ELITES AND CRIME / 18 NOV 2019

A longtime influence peddler in Guatemala will spend just over four years in a US prison after pleading guilty to…

icon #SupportFreePress
image

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.

DONATE NOW image