Hondurans pay $30 million annually in extortion: Analyst
By Dialogo September 24, 2013
TEGUCIGALPA: In August 2013, the Honduran Congress approved the creation of the Military Police, which will work with the National Police to fight organized crime, general delinquency, and improve public safety.
Fighting extortion by organized crime groups will be one of the main responsibilities of the Military Police.
Organized crime operatives are forcing taxi drivers and small business owners in Honduras to pay nearly $10 million annually to extortionists, according to a recent report.
There are 16 major markets in Tegucigalpa, where 14,000 stall owners sell clothing, electronics, produce and other kinds of food. Each of the stall owners pays about 300 lempiras a week in extortion money, according to a report by security analyst Billy Joya, a former Honduran police official.
That adds up to 16 million lempiras a month and 192 million lempiras a year – the equivalent of $ 9.6 million. Extortion has become common in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and La Ceiba, according to the report and law enforcement officials.
Extortion by gang members and organized crime operatives is so common that it is known as a “war tax,” one Tegucigalpa taxi driver said.
He and his fellow taxi drivers have to pay organized crime operatives to avoid becoming victims of violence, said the taxi driver, who asked to be identified only as “Carlos” for safety reasons. Organized crime groups have cells of operatives to collect extortion money, Carlos said.
“It is the war tax,” he said. “We each have to pay 2,000 lempiras monthly, we hand it to the route boss and a gang member collects the sum from him.”
The extortion demands are causing great economic harm to him and his fellow taxi drivers, Carlos said. After paying the extortionists, he and his fellow taxi drivers usually have very little money left over, Carlos said.
“We are almost working only for them,” he said.
But refusing to pay the extortion is not an option, he said. “If we don’t pay, they kill us,” he said. Carlos changed his routes because the extortion demands in his old route were higher, he said.
Taxi drivers are not the only victims of organized crime extortionists. Owners of small grocery stores, clothing shop owners, and restaurant operators are also targets of organized crime extortionists, Carlos said.
Most of the organized crime operatives who collect extortion money are boys or teenagers, Joya said.
“The collectors are young kids between the ages of 10 and 16, all of them are minors because organized crime groups know that they are protected by law and will be released within 24 hours if they are captured,” Joya said.
The boys and teenagers go from one business to the next collecting extortion money, Joya said. “At the national level we estimate criminals are collecting $2.5 million from small businesses per month, or $30 million per year.”
Businesses close, extortion victims killed
Many business people cannot afford to make the payments, and close their shops, stalls, and restaurants, Joya said.
About 1,500 businesses close every year because they cannot afford to pay extortion demands, he said.
Criminals killed at least 84 taxi drivers in Honduras in 2012, according to the National Human Rights Commission. Attackers killed most of them because they refused to pay extortion demands or were unable to make the payments, according to a commission report.
Another 15 taxi drivers were severely injured, and 20 passengers were killed or wounded, the report said.
Taxi drivers, restaurant operators and shop owners are not the only ones being targeted by extortionists. Even some priests have reported being victims of extortion, authorities said.
Reports of extortion are on the increase, authorities said. In 2011, police in Tegucigalpa recorded 163 reports of extortion, authorities said. In 2012, police in the city recorded 755 reports of extortion, an increase of more than 450 percent.
The Military Police is scheduled to begin patrolling in Tegucigalpa and other cities in October 2013. Officials hope the Military Police will help combat extortion and other crimes. “We believe this strengthening will translate into reduced extortions, which by law are now considered acts of terrorism,” said Congressman German Leitzelar.
my question is, do you keep a growth chart that can show population the progress of the business field where extortion payments are being eliminated? to what bank do they deposit those taxes, is there any surveillance on the bank accounts, where the amounts of the monthly deposits can be identified and matched with the dates and deposited amounts, and which analyzes what business does the deposited money come from? why don't they use cops infiltrated as cab drivers!!!! to follow also the businesses that pay taxes a couple of times and then follow up to see where it leads to, if criminals are smart then disguise yourselves as criminals and you will be able to catch them!1 They will never be able to eliminate those delinquents because its a mob associated with the police and high-rank officials, so you need to start with the upper level in order to eliminate some of those delinquent mooches. It's an unfortunate fact If we change its name, it's identical to what goes on in Venezuela. Only God can change things, a civil servant will not put away a blackmailer because he cannot do it. If he does, he or his family gets killed, so he would rather play ignorant. This corruption occurs because the governments are accomplices as well and are not interested in doing anything, since there are policemen and politicians involved. It is necessary to perform a deep reform of the judicial laws of that country. THE SECURITY SITUATION IN HONDURAS IS LIKE A STRAIGHT JACKET. ON ONE HAND, ORGANIZED CRIME IS EITHER EXTORTING THE PEOPLE OR KILLING THEM, AND ON THE OTHER HAND, THE WAR TAX AGAINST THE CITIZENS WHO DON'T EVEN HAVE MONEY TO EAT, NOT JUST BECAUSE OF THE PRICES OF THE BASIC FOOD BUT ALSO BECAUSE OF THE HIGH TAXES, TO THE POINT WHERE MUNICIPALITIES HAVE INCREASED TAXES 80 TIMES WITH NO JOBS AND WITHOUT ADDING THE SECURITY RATE. WE ARE CORNERED LIKE IN THE BATTLE BETWEEN HITLER AND THE JEWS...THEY WANT TO ELIMINATE US. It's a shame what Honduras is going through. Be strong and don't give in to this abuse and may God protect you from this evil. I wish people were patient, since the police forces will be improved. Yes...congrats to the government for taking immediate action to eliminate the delinquency that has been taking over in almost all countries of the world. I hope it serves as example for all governments worldwide. If the state and its institutions fulfilled their responsibilities, there would be no charges or theft!! I don't understand why you publish this article discrediting Honduras. Just like all countries we have security issues but there are more good people than bad. I love Honduras and would never leave. It shows the level of social decomposition that the people of Latin America are experiencing.