Gang members have been sent to work as security guards in El Salvador in order to extort vehicle owners, highlighting the risks inherent in relying on private, ill-regulated companies to provide security.
Several individuals working as security guards in the Soyapango sector of San Salvador have been dismissed after a police investigation found that they were members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and that community leaders were threatened into employing them by telephone calls made from prison, reported La Prensa Grafica.
According to police, gang members used the post to carry out extortion, threatening to damage vehicles if owners did not pay them a monthly tax.
Labor regulations require private security guards to have a clean criminal record and to pass a training course.
InSight Crime Analysis
Homicides have dropped sharply since the government made a deal with MS-13 and Barrio 18, El Salvador's principal gangs, giving them concessions in exchange for a reduction in violence. The reports of a scheme to place gang members as security guards point to one of the main challenges to the truce, which is providing alternative income for gang members, who rely in large part on extortion revenues. While various promises have been made regarding work and training schemes for gang members, so far the government has not come up with anything substantial. According to police, extortion has risen since the truce was agreed.
El Salvador, along with Honduras and Guatemala, has one of the highest concentrations of private security guards in the region, while Central America is estimated to have over 200,000. This is due to high insecurity, and to the fact that low taxation levels means that there is a lack of money to pay for police. There have also been reports from Honduras of criminal groups using private security companies as a cover for their activities.