Investigation and Analysis of Organized Crime
Extorsion in 
Central America

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A series of assassinations on Ecuador’s southern border with Peru have been attributed to gang members fighting for control of the illegal crossings by which both people and contraband are smuggled, emphasizing the danger of hard borders in incentivizing competitive criminal violence.

This is the second part of a three-part series on San Salvador’s Historic Center, the heart of the country’s informal urban markets and a long-time bastion of the street gangs. The stories chronicle how the gangs have used their stranglehold on the center to expand their power in El Salvador.

It was late 2016 and officials in San Salvador were preparing for the grand opening of a sparkling new market in the city’s Historic Center.

With dozens of Venezuelan athletes now playing on Major League Baseball teams in the United States, a powerful gang has begun to extort local academies and scouts in charge of finding, training and developing them in their home country.

Mapping Extortion in the Northern Triangle

Datos reportados

The Northern Triangle

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Tasa de extorsión
El Salvador

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Cities and Extortion

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Extortion Explainers

northern triangle map

The Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are now home to some of the most sophisticated extortion schemes in Latin America. The birth of these extortion markets is intertwined with the beginnings of the region’s two most dangerous gangs: the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18).

monja blanca buses

The Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and 18th Street Gang’s (Barrio 18) primary criminal economy is extortion, or what they call rent. In the early 1990s, when the gangs first formed among Salvadoran deportees, gang members shook down shops or merchants for a “cora” — slang for the American quarter — at a time.

cellphone in hand picture

A cheap phone and a few dollars’ worth of prepaid credit serve as the rudimentary tools of extortionists in Northern Triangle countries. Here are some of the most common schemes at their disposal.

el salvador police man picture

Extortion spurs violence in Northern Triangle countries, which consistently have some of the highest murder rates in Latin America. But it is destructive in other insidious ways as well.

Extortion News

The Sicilianization of Mexican Drug Cartels

Extortion can be defined as the action through which one individual obtains a resource from another through intimidation or threat of violence. This criminal activity has been used by organized crime groups since early modern human civilization.

Argentina Drug Gang Extorts ‘Blue Dollar’ Sellers

A criminal group in Argentina has found a novel target for extortion: black market currency dealers who are moving large amounts of cash to dollar-hungry Argentines in an economy hit hard by the pandemic.

Coronavirus Rattles Barrio 18 Structure in Guatemala

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.

Coronavirus Affects Extortion Payments in Mexico and Central America

The measures in the fight against the coronavirus in Central America have caused two starkly different reactions from criminal groups, some are continuing to extort local populations while others have decided to waive payments for the time being.

Overview of Violence Against Social Leaders in Colombia

Social leaders across Colombia were murdered at an almost unprecedented rate in 2019, and for a wide range of causes. Criminal gangs seeking to protect their illegal economies, such as drug traffickers and illegal mining, have been the main culprits.

‘Gota a Gota’ Extortionists Expand in Bolivia by Preying on Venezuela...

Bolivian authorities were taken by surprise on November 7, 2018, when they captured three Venezuelans during an operation to dismantle a "gota a gota" loan shark network, a criminal activity connected to Colombian mafias.

This page is the result of a joint investigation by InSight Crime and the Global Initiative on Organized Crime looking at the plague of extortion across Central America. This extensive research project charts the actors behind this varied criminal market and a range of responses by the authorities while presenting alternative thinking on how to face this threat.