El Salvador police crackdown on extortion by Mara Salvatrucha
By Dialogo November 13, 2013
Salvadoran security forces are making progress against organized crime groups which engage in extortion, authorities said.
Extortion has been a growing crime in El Salvador since the mid-2000s. By May 2006, extortion was one of the most common crimes in El Salvador, according to authorities. Organized crime groups, including street gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS-13) and Barrio 18 target owners of small businesses, taxi drivers, and street vendors for extortion.
In June 2013, El Salvador’s National Civil Police (PNC) launched an anti-extortion unit. Since the anti-extortion unit began operating, the number of reported extortions has dropped by 11 percent compared to the same months (June through October) in 2012, authorities said.
Extortion remains a serious problem, and police must remain vigilant, according to Beatriz Nájera, a security analyst at José Matías Delgado University in San Salvador. “
In 2007, there were a total of 3,578 denouncements made,” Beatriz said.
During the first four months of 2011, “the number of denouncements made totalled 16,765. This is an alarming figure,” Nájera said.
There are 11,730 businesses registered with the National Council for Small Businesses Conapes). About 70 percent of these businesses reported that gangs had targeted them for extortion, according to published reports.
Between January and May 2013, before the anti-extortion unit was launched, an average of two businesses a week throughout the county were shutting down because of extortion.
Cooperating with the civilian population
Between January and June 2013, businesses in El Salvador lost $7.8 million USD because of extortion, authorities said.
The National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP) formed a partnership with the PNC to resist extortion efforts. The program is called “Crime Stoppers.”
“We are training companies how to handle extortion so that employees and workers who are approached at bus stops know how to respond and who to call,” said Arnoldo Jiménez, executive director of ANEP.
The anti-extortion unit needs cooperation from the civilian population to fight the gangs and organized crime groups which engage in extortion, authorities said. The MJSP is asking mayors, business owners, and social organizations to report incidents of extortion and any information that could lead to extortionists.
Families are targeted
While gang members usually target small business owners, taxi drivers, and street vendors for extortion, they also at times try to force families and even children to hand over money or risk violence.
“My organization has confirmed that children in public parks, as well as families in some neighbourhoods have been charged dues, under the false premise of ‘cooperating for security,’” Nájera said.
Gang members use the threat of violence to force their victims to pay extortion money. Criminals threaten to harm or kill their victims and the families of their victims.
“It is the beginning of a relationship in which if you pay, I will not harm you. Also, it is usually committed with other types of crimes,” said Marco Lara, a journalist who covers extortion in Latin America.
A soccer player is a victim
On Oct. 18, 2013, Cristian Esnal, a center-back for the State University soccer team, suddenly left El Salvador with his family.
Esnal took his family to Uruguay, where his parents live. In Uruguay, he announced to the press that he had left El Salvador because strangers had targeted him for extortion.
On Oct. 14, a group of extortionists demanded that he pay them $2,000 USD, or his family would be harmed, Esnal told reporters.
Salvadoran authorities said they would investigate Esnal’s allegations.
Me da nauseas ver como los delincuentes caminan libres en El Salvador mientras que las autoridades a sabiendas no hacen nada. El Salvador se ha convertido en un paÃs donde los funcionarios pÃºblicos corruptos y los narcotraficantes pueden continuar viviendo como reyes mientras la poblaciÃ³n sufre por sus acciones. Â¿QuÃ© debe ocurrir para ver un cambio? Â¿CuÃ¡ndo controlarÃ¡n a las pandillas? Â¿Por cuÃ¡nto tiempo permitirÃ¡n que estos grupos del crimen organizado perjudiquen la estabilidad del paÃs? Con razÃ³n cada vez mÃ¡s familias se van al extranjero debido a que son privados de sus derechos mÃ¡s fundamentales. Los derechos que garantizan que cada ciudadano tenga una vida pacÃfica y prÃ³spera. Ya es hora de hondear la bandera del valor para luchar contra el terror que esclaviza a la naciÃ³n en un estado de miedo y desesperaciÃ³n. "Libre al viento tu hermosa bandera que a vencer o a morir llamara, que tu pueblo con Ã¡nima fiera, antes muerto que esclavo serÃ¡".