Police in Honduras say transportation operators are often complicit in the extortion rings that exploit their own drivers, showing how the range of actors involved in these schemes extends beyond the "mara" gangs that draw the attentions of the security forces.
Representatives of the Anti-Extortion Unit of the National Police in Honduras (Fuerza Nacional Antiextorsión - FNA) have said that some transportation owners and operators cooperate with gangs in extorting their colleagues making it harder to detect and dismantle the schemes, reported La Prensa. The FNA says that complicity in extortion rackets also extends to members of the police, military, and other public officials.
Since the FNA was established in 2013, the unit has arrested more than 2000 people for extortion related crimes. While the vast majority have been connected to the street gangs known as "maras," those arrested have also included prison officials, telecommunications workers, police officers, and members of the military.
Authorities believe mara gangs are responsible for around 80 percent of extortion of transport networks. Although the country's two most infamous gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18, are the dominant actors in the racket, the FNA has also identified four smaller gangs that control territory and operate active transport extortion rings in Honduras' capital Tegucigalpa: Los Chirizos, Los Benjamines, "El combo que no se deja," and La Mafia.
InSight Crime Analysis
Extortion of transport networks in Honduras is worth $27 million a year, according to government estimates, and as the FNA develops a more complete picture of who is involved in these rackets it is becoming clear the country's main gangs are not the only ones taking their cut of this money.
While gangs drive much of the actual collection and enforcement efforts, carrying out attacks and executions when payment is not made, it is also clear that their operations rely on the collaboration of insiders at transportation networks as well as the collusion of corrupt security forces and public officials, and the role of such actors should not be ignored in investigations.
In addition, it is important to note the MS13 and Barrio 18 are not the only gangs involved in extortion as if all eyes are on these groups, smaller rivals could flourish.
In February 2016, for example, authorities in Honduras launched a security offensive known as "Operation Avalanche" that specifically targets MS13 extortion networks. If such operations succeed in diminishing the MS13's capacity to operate, this may not lead to a drop in extortion, but instead the strengthening of the gang's rivals, who could take advantage of authorities' diverted attention and the MS13's troubles to expand their own operations and territorial control.