Honduran authorities reduce extortion by blocking cell phone service at prisons
By Dialogo May 30, 2014
Honduran security forces have made significant progress in the fight against extortion by blocking cell phone calls from prisons. Incarcerated gang leaders often use cell phones to give orders to their fellow gang members.
Prisoners are prohibited from having cell phones, but some incarcerated gang members have friends and relatives smuggle the devices to them in prison. They use the cell phones to call other gang members who are not incarcerated and direct them to commit crimes, including extortion.
Blocking cell phone calls from prisons is proving to be an effective tactic to protect the civilian population, President Juan Orlando Hernández said on May 5 in a report on his first 100 days in office, according to a statement from Office of the Presidency of the Republic.
Authorities have blocked cellular phone service at 24 prisons throughout the country, and security forces have captured 170 suspected extortionists, the president said. To further improve security, authorities plan on launching a “blacklist” system, disabling stolen cell phones so criminals cannot use them, the president said.
Though authorities have made good progress in improving public safety, security forces remain vigilant, Hernández said.
“We understand that the safety-related issues that have been resolved are not enough to restore peace and tranquility,” the president said.” “There is still more to do and we are working hard because it is not a fight that we will win overnight.”
A dramatic drop in extortions
The number of reported extortions throughout the country has dropped by 50 to 70 percent since authorities blocked cell phone service at prisons.
Before authorities blocked cell phone calls from prison, Honduran residents reported an average of 10 extortions a day. Since security forces blocked cell phone service at prisons, the National Anti-Extortion Force (FNA) has received three to five reports of extortions daily.
Blocking cell phone calls from prisons has had a dramatic impact on the number of extortions because most extortions – 80 percent – are ordered by incarcerated gang members, La Prensa reported. Before cell phone service at prisons was blocked, most extortions were ordered by gang members incarcerated at the prison in San Pedro Sula, according to the newspaper.
Many of the extortions are committed by the two major gangs in El Salvador: Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and Barrio 18. The two gangs engage in extortion and other criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, micro-trafficking, robbery, and homicide, said Migdonia Ayestas, Director of the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAHH).
Gang members often target workers in the transportation industry for extortion, forcing taxi and bus drivers and taxi dispatchers to pay a “war tax,” Ayestas said.
About 350 transportation workers in Honduras have been killed in recent years, according to La Prensa. About 80 percent of those killings were linked to extortion. Transportation workers in San Pedro Sula, the country’s industrial center, pay an estimated $27 million (USD) in extortion annually to gangs.
There are about 36,000 gang members in Honduras, according to studies by the Jose Simeon Cañas Central American University (UCA). Most of the gang members are between ages 11 and 18, and many of them operate in San Pedro Sula.
Gangs are responsible for much of the violence which placed San Pedro Sula at the top of the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice’s list of the 50 most violent cities in the world. The council is a community group based in Mexico.
Restoring public safety
The perception that a Honduran city is so violent “is unacceptable, and we are changing these things,” President Hernández told La Tribuna in an interview which was published in early May.
Honduran authorities are working hard to improve public safety and are making progress, Ayestas said.
“The authorities want results. Criminals are being investigated, arrested, and taken to court,” Ayestas said.
Security initiatives are bringing down the violence.
In 2012, Honduras averaged 21 killings a day. So far in 2014, the country is averaging 14 killings a year, a 33 percent decrease.
“Impunity no longer exists in this country. No more mourning, no more blood, no more displacement due to insecurity”, Hernández said during a May 8 ceremony at Campo Marte in Tegucigalpa to commemorate adding two more squadrons to Operation Morazán, a security initiative.
“The more we fight crime, the more criminals are going to attack, but we will not retreat a single inch,” Hernández added.
I love the army a lot Hooray for order. They are actual cops, not like the ones in Venezuela that are only in it when there's money. Many Latin American countries are in the same situation, starting with my country, Venezuela. The violence is terrible, I hope they do something that actually works. That's very good. I hope they do the same in Venezuela to decrease corruption in prisons a bit. May God protect us from all the consequences that are to come and may good prevail over evil. We want to live in peace and harmony. We must return to the way of God. I'm very glad to know that serious measures are being taken, such as eliminating the use of cellphones in the prisons of any country. CONGRATULATIONS! IVAN ESPINA, CARACAS, VENEZUELA. Lie!!!!
I am Honduran and I live in Honduras and this is a total lie. The extortion levels have not been reduced and impunity is increasing every day.
What is true, is that the government expends millions and millions of dollars in advertising saying that crime rates in Honduras are decreasing. So while the government is reducing the healthcare budget by making the hospitals seem like rural health clinics and while the government is attacking corruption but can't explain where the 7 billion lempiras ($300 million) that disappear in the Honduran Institute of Social Security and the 14 billion ($600 million) that were lost in the National Institute of Pensions, for which there is no one behind bars for these crimes!!!
And while all this is happening, Honduras are living the daily terror of going to work without knowing if we'll make it back home and the nationalist government brags with these lies and Honduras die of worms in hospitals because they don't even have painkillers for patients because the doctors and politicians have stolen all the drugs to sell them.
We Honduras pray not to ran into a cop because it will rob us, extort us or if the cop wants to, kills us without no one saying anything.
It's outrageous for Honduras having to read these type of fake news!
There's no reduction here of anything! The only thing being reduced is access to public services!!!! Good afternoon! This example should be suggested to the world to prevent so many social evils that are being planned from the confinement centers. Specially in Venezuela. Thanks. A job well done by the police authorities along with the government. What's happening in Honduras is coming soon. Hi, I'd like to do my military service. I just turned 18 this month and I completed up to the second level. I want you to recruit me. ;) I wish they did the same thing in Venezuela. Congratulations, Honduras. This system was also applied in Paraguay, but later, the same penitentiary authorities damaged the device in order to unblock the communication. This is because there's a lot of corruption in the penitentiary and everywhere else. Here, the authorities can be bought off like baked goods. I feel sorry for what's happening. Greetings, I think this military accomplishment is wonderful. This government's deal is all pure shock while patients in hospitals are dying. There are no medicines and there are still ignorant people who haven't opened their eyes. We have to change this system. That's good because here in Guatemala we're not doing a good job controlling cellphones in prisons. That the governments gives an order to kill all the extortionists and those who murder innocent people and to instruct this mission to the P.M. because cops can be bought. Ã‰ muito bom IT SHOULD BE LIKE THIS IN ALL THOSE CENTERS. I like it. Well, I think it's good what they're doing. I wish it was the same in the rest of the countries, at least in El Salvador where the prisons are filled with gangs. It'd be more effective for people. If what they're saying was really true, then congratulations to the Honduran people who have suffered so much by being prisoners in their own homes. But in order to eliminate all the crimes in Honduras you need to start cleaning all the corrupted people within the judicial, military and police power and the government....of Nicaragua. Good morning to all. I just want to tell you this morning that the members of the military police are doing a good job and I want to congratulate them for their work.Thanks.