Many victims, especially those in the Northern Triangle nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, feel powerless to fight back against extortion. The fear generated by the powerful street gangs within communities tends to assure that once they are threatened, most people pay up, or hand over what is being demanded.
States across the region are also struggling to slow this growing criminal enterprise and, in many cases, their responses have made matters worse.
But there are exceptions to both across the region. In this section, we outline some of the ways that communities and states have resisted or responded to extortion throughout Central America.
On the outskirts of Guatemala City lie impoverished neighborhoods, home to millions who commute to work in the capital city. These so-called “dorm cities,” long neglected by the state and lacking in basic services, have turned into violent gang recruitment grounds over the years.
Under pressure from El Salvador’s security forces in urban centers, members of the powerful Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street Gang turned their attention to the countryside and potential extortion markets there.
Honduras’ private sector, under the banner of regional chambers of commerce, joined forces with the country’s elite anti-extortion unit in what was a fruitful collaboration. But the collaboration between businessmen and state security forces does not bode well for the country’s anti-extortion efforts.