HomeNewsBriefHalf of Extortion Calls in Guatemala Are Made from One Prison
BRIEF

Half of Extortion Calls in Guatemala Are Made from One Prison

EXTORTION / 30 DEC 2019 BY PHOEBE STUDDERT-KENNEDY EN

New data in Guatemala has revealed that almost half of all extortion phone calls originate from a single place: the country’s largest prison.

Information from Guatemala's Attorney General’s Office revealed that La Granja de Rehabilitación Cantel in Quetzaltenango is the origin of 47 percent of extortion calls in the country, Prensa Libre reported in late November, quoting anti-extortion prosecutor Antonio Díaz.

A number of raids have taken place throughout the year. In January, investigators turned up lists of phone numbers believed to be used to extort members of the public. A massive search of the Cantel prison facility in July 2019 involving over 1,400 police officers uncovered 200 phone chargers, although only 11 phones, and further seizures were seen in October.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

But in November, Guatemalan police spokesperson Pablo Castillo told the press that one individual prisoner, David Quinteros López, alias “El Tijerillas,” was found to be coordinating about 200 calls a day along with three other prisoners. Their modus operandi was to call transport companies and threaten to murder staff if they did not comply, according to Prensa Libre.

Castillo denounced López as a “copycat” extortionist, with little or no connection to real gangs, but who exploited the fear of extortion by gangs and made calls posing as members.

Copycat extortionists continue to plague the country's prison system. The Guatemalan police said 70 percent of all extortion calls in Guatemala come from prison, and that 80 percent of these are made from copycats, Prensa Libre reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

The frustration of Guatemalan authorities at being unable to rein in extortion practices by these copycats is shining through. David Boteo, head of Guatemala’s anti-gang police squad (DIPANDA), complained to the press that prison searches “are not part of our job, but we have to do it to reduce criminality.”

Given the scale of operations deployed in the Cantel prison this year alone, and the meager results shown, the police appear stumped about how to crack down on this criminal economy with a relatively low bar of entry.

The knowledge that the Cantel prison makes up half of all calls is also unlikely to make a difference, given how frequent raids appear to have failed to make a dent.

And despite the “widespread fear” of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 gangs allowing copycats to thrive, there is considerable disagreement about what importance they actually play in Guatemala’s extortion crisis.

SEE ALSO: Copycat Extortionists: Guatemala’s Criminal Chancers

Copycats have hit on a lucrative revenue stream, with one structure dismantled in August 2018 having extorted over $36,000 without being comprised of a single MS13 or Barrio 18 member. The total amount of copycats remains debated: in 2016 the Guatemalan government estimated 90 percent of extortion calls came from imitators, whilst certain think-tanks and experts say two-thirds of these calls are still dominated by gangs, a 2019 InSight Crime investigation found.

Various actions have been taken by authorities to try and combat this crime. Both the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Police (Policía Nacional Civil – PNC) have created special sections to investigate copycats within their anti-extortion units. Furthermore, the Interior Ministry has tried to prevent prison calls since it acquired signal blockers in 2006.

Yet a combination of sabotage, a lack of electricity and topography has rendered the blockers ineffective, according to Prensa Libre. Additionally, the country’s prison system has been unable to prevent the entry of cell phones into prisons. Overcrowding also facilitates such crimes -- the Cantel prison holds 2,264 prisoners despite having the capacity for just 625 -- and prison staff who are strict could end up killed.

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

ELITES AND CRIME / 28 JUN 2017

Lieutenant Colonel Mauricio López Bonilla, Guatemala's ex-interior minister and previous head of the country's police force, issued orders for his…

COLOMBIA / 27 FEB 2014

Police believe a bomb that killed five people in Choco, Colombia was either planted by the FARC guerrillas or the…

BARRIO 18 / 1 NOV 2017

El Salvador Police Chief Howard Cotto warned that gangs plan to infiltrate local politics by involving themselves in municipal elections,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…