HomeNewsBriefCoronavirus Rattles Barrio 18 Structure in Guatemala
BRIEF

Coronavirus Rattles Barrio 18 Structure in Guatemala

BARRIO 18 / 16 JUN 2020 BY ALEX PAPADOVASSILAKIS EN

Police in Guatemala say the economic pressures stemming from the coronavirus lockdown are exacerbating internal divisions within the Barrio 18 street gang, a symptom of the structural weaknesses that have long affected the group.

With much of the Guatemalan economy shut down since the coronavirus pandemic hit in mid-March, some gangs have put extortion payments on hold, adversely affecting low-ranking Barrio 18 members who rely on these revenues to make ends meet, according to David Boteo, head of the country’s anti-gang police (División Nacional contra el Desarrollo de las Pandillas – DIPANDA).

The systematic extortion of local business, public transport, and convenience stores, among other victims, is the main source of income for the gang, which has around 3,000 active members and a vast network of collaborators spread across 19 of Guatemala’s 22 departments, according to information provided by DIPANDA.

Strapped for cash, low-ranking gang members are increasingly breaking off into splinter groups, engaging in the same criminal activities but no longer under the banner of Barrio 18, Boteo told InSight Crime.

SEE ALSO: Coronavirus Affects Extortion Payments in Mexico and Central America

“They’ve found themselves needing to go out and commit robberies, steal from supply trucks, vehicles, and houses,” the DIPANDA chief said, adding that the breakaway groups have “tried to extort in areas under Barrio 18 control and risking their lives in doing so because they are doing it without permission.”

But unlike in neighboring El Salvador, where Barrio 18 has long been divided into two rival factions, the gang’s splinter groups in Guatemala has thus far remained minor criminal players, according to Mario Bosos, a former DIPANDA advisor.

Nonetheless, Guatemala’s anti-gang police are now concentrating efforts on avoiding further gang fragmentation and the growth of new extortion rackets, Prensa Libre reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

Guatemala’s coronavirus lockdown appears to be accelerating existing fractures within Barrio 18, which is active throughout Central America and known for its decentralized structure.

The pandemic has highlighted the economic frustrations felt by the gang’s rank-and-file, many of whom are now struggling to subsist without extortion rent, while gang leaders use revenues from legal business to tide themselves over until the economy re-opens, Boteo explained.

Yet these tensions are not new and were already causing the gang’s fragmentation before the onset of the coronavirus in Guatemala.

Bosos told InSight Crime that Barrio 18’s leadership began losing authority after many members became frustrated at a lack of chances of upward mobility and a perception that high-ranking members were living in better prison conditions after Guatemala authorities began isolating leaders in separate jails in the early 2010s.

That gradual erosion of the leadership’s legitimacy vis-à-vis the lower ranks and the need for economic survival paved the way for independent groups to emerge, a dynamic that appears to have sped up with the economic desperation brought about by the coronavirus lockdown.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

Now, it appears that economic necessity is superseding respect for the gang’s leadership, despite the risk of death that comes with betraying the gang.

“Many [low-ranking members] now act like they aren’t active members, because they don’t follow the organization’s rules,” Bosos explained. He added that the breakaway factions are already up to speed with Barrio 18 criminal portfolio and said that “once they have gained territorial control, they want independence.”

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

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.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BARRIO 18 / 7 JAN 2016

Every day, thousands of Salvadorans travel through areas governed by the Mara Salvatrucha into areas governed by one of the…

GUATEMALA / 31 AUG 2012

The United States has sent some 170 Marines to Guatemala as part of its ongoing efforts to crackdown on drug…

BARRIO 18 / 27 APR 2016

Police in Honduras say transportation operators are often complicit in the extortion rings that exploit their own drivers, showing how…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

22 OCT 2021

InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.