Data released by a special Honduras police unit formed to combat extortion indicates the country is making progress against an illegal industry responsible for many deaths and massive economic losses.
The National Anti-Extortion Force (Fuerza Nacional Antiextorsión - FNA) said it had arrested 404 people for extorting of public and private transportation organizations, a common target of gangs throughout Central America, La Tribuna reported. The paper said adult males made up 77.5 percent of those captured while minors -- who are often used to deliver threats and payment instructions -- accounted for 11.4 percent and another 11.1 percent of those taken into custody were adult females.
The FNA reportedly has received a total of 600 complaints this year. Of that number, 221 cases went to court, resulting in 168 convictions. That is a 76 percent conviction rate.
An FNA spokesman quoted by La Tribuna said the majority of those affected by extortion are public transportation groups or private providers of transportation. These victims are often intimidated and threatened with death by various criminal bands, including gang members from MS-13 and Barrio 18.
InSight Crime Analysis
Extortion is a huge issue that continues to plague the Central American countries of the Northern Triangle -- El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Just this week a government investigator in Guatemala was murdered near a market where vendors had begun to publicly protest extortion.
While extortion continues to plague the region, it appears that the Honduran Government is now taking a tougher approach to the crime, recognizing the political and economic toll it is having on the population of the Central American nation.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
The Honduras’ National Human Rights Commission (Conadeh) has attributed the deaths of hundreds of transportation workers to the work of extortionists groups. In addition to this deadly toll, the FNA estimates that extortion costs Honduras $200 million per year. For a country whose gross domestic product is only about $20 billion, that figure represents about 1 percent of the total economy.
These figures are not small amounts for a nation beset by poverty and also plagued by corruption. One former social security director there has been accused of embezzling $300 million.
While criminal groups such as gangs are often behind extortion rackets, the FNA has previously said that soldiers, police, government officials and even the transportation companies themselves are active participants in extortion rackets. But it appears that the FNA is making inroads in countering the malicious practice which is taking a devastating toll on common Honduran citizens.