Honduras: National Anti-Extortion Force Subdues Organized Crime

Honduras: National Anti-Extortion Force Subdues Organized Crime

By Dialogo
December 17, 2014




The impact of the Honduran National Anti-Extortion Force (FNA) since its March 2013 launch: 300 extortion gangs dismantled. Over 1,100 extortion suspects arrested. And about $3 million saved from their shake-down schemes.

But those are just numbers. For the targets and victims of extortion in Honduras, the FNA’s efforts are priceless.

“I think that the public trusts the unit because its results speak for themselves,” Wilfredo Méndez, security analyst and coordinator of the Commission for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (CIPRODEH).

The FNA is composed of members of the Armed Forces and the National Police, special prosecutors, and investigation analysts, all dedicated to fighting extortion. Before the creation of the unit, the Public Ministry (MP) was the only body responsible for combating extortion; from 2011 to 2012, it arrested 210 persons, resulted in 112 court cases. The numbers since then mark a dramatic shift.

“These positive results are due to the support provided by the State and cooperation with neighboring countries: high level training, high quality equipment and technology, and in addition, officers are selected based on their superior track record and performance,” said one FNA official, who asked to remain anonymous.

According to Pacheco, officers receive training in special operations and firearms techniques every three months. The FNA can call on the tactical support of El Salvador's Special Anti-Extortion Group (GEA); Colombia's Anti-Extortion and Anti-Kidnapping Unit (UNASE) and the Unified Action Group for Personal Liberty (GAULA); in addition, USAID provides resources and technical support.

The country is prioritizing the fight against this crime, which is demonstrated by the support of the judicial branch, which has assigned 10 special prosecutors in Tegucigalpa, six in San Pedro Sula, two in La Ceiba and one in Comayagua, the places with highest incidences of extortion cases. They also have special judges to hear the cases.

The FNA achieves positive results


The success of the FNA has the benefit of a special tool: the protection of witnesses.

“The protection of the victim's identity allows that person to feel confident about reporting crimes, as the database is handled with strict confidentiality to the point that when the files are submitted to the MP, names are not revealed, we only assign a code to each case, and only the special judge receives the complete information in a sealed envelope,” said the FNA official.

Meanwhile, the Honduran government has taken additional measures to fight extortion. In March 2014, Diálogo
reported that Honduran authorities had decided to block phone calls from cellphones in the country's 24 prisons, but even after this measure the public reported that it continued to suffer from extortion emanating from prisons.

“We discovered that some people were being extorted by presumed criminals who were incarcerated, but the calls were being made from public telephone booths located within the prisons,” said the FNA official.

To prevent this while safeguarding the human rights of the prisoners, the FNA requested to have the booths relocated to an area where guards could supervise the telephone calls.

The business community invests with confidence


Extortion is not only a danger to national security -- it also harms the economy. Rafael Medina, deputy director of Tegucigalpa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIT), said that in the last four years 17,000 micro-businesses closed their doors across the country, as they could not continue to pay extortionists. But in 2014 this trend has been reversed.

“The response capacity of the FNA has reduced this crime, which has increased the positive perceptions of the business community, resulting in the opening of 700 new businesses in the year to date,” said Medina.

Up to October 31, the FNA had prevented the handover of $915,821 to extortionists, while in 2013 this sum amounted to $1,708,920.

He added that there will be a new amendment to Article 222 of the Penal Code. “Extortion will cease to be a private crime and will become a public offense. In other words, at the moment we need a complaint in order to act against extortionists, but with this amendment we can investigate whenever we become aware that the crime is being committed in an area,” said the FNA official. However, he called on the public to keep up the pressure and continue to report the crime.

In two years of confrontations with extortionists, four FNA officers have been wounded, because suspects are equipped with high-caliber weapons.

“FNA officers are trained to thoroughly investigate and analyze, but they are also ready for direct confrontations, because we are up against organized crime. This is a war that we are winning,” he said.

For victims of extortion, the FNA has provided the following telephone numbers: (504) 96418480, in Tegucigalpa; in San Pedro Sula (504) 95741341, in Comayagua (504) 27400509; and (504) 94821268 in La Ceiba.



The impact of the Honduran National Anti-Extortion Force (FNA) since its March 2013 launch: 300 extortion gangs dismantled. Over 1,100 extortion suspects arrested. And about $3 million saved from their shake-down schemes.

But those are just numbers. For the targets and victims of extortion in Honduras, the FNA’s efforts are priceless.

“I think that the public trusts the unit because its results speak for themselves,” Wilfredo Méndez, security analyst and coordinator of the Commission for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (CIPRODEH).

The FNA is composed of members of the Armed Forces and the National Police, special prosecutors, and investigation analysts, all dedicated to fighting extortion. Before the creation of the unit, the Public Ministry (MP) was the only body responsible for combating extortion; from 2011 to 2012, it arrested 210 persons, resulted in 112 court cases. The numbers since then mark a dramatic shift.

“These positive results are due to the support provided by the State and cooperation with neighboring countries: high level training, high quality equipment and technology, and in addition, officers are selected based on their superior track record and performance,” said one FNA official, who asked to remain anonymous.

According to Pacheco, officers receive training in special operations and firearms techniques every three months. The FNA can call on the tactical support of El Salvador's Special Anti-Extortion Group (GEA); Colombia's Anti-Extortion and Anti-Kidnapping Unit (UNASE) and the Unified Action Group for Personal Liberty (GAULA); in addition, USAID provides resources and technical support.

The country is prioritizing the fight against this crime, which is demonstrated by the support of the judicial branch, which has assigned 10 special prosecutors in Tegucigalpa, six in San Pedro Sula, two in La Ceiba and one in Comayagua, the places with highest incidences of extortion cases. They also have special judges to hear the cases.

The FNA achieves positive results


The success of the FNA has the benefit of a special tool: the protection of witnesses.

“The protection of the victim's identity allows that person to feel confident about reporting crimes, as the database is handled with strict confidentiality to the point that when the files are submitted to the MP, names are not revealed, we only assign a code to each case, and only the special judge receives the complete information in a sealed envelope,” said the FNA official.

Meanwhile, the Honduran government has taken additional measures to fight extortion. In March 2014, Diálogo
reported that Honduran authorities had decided to block phone calls from cellphones in the country's 24 prisons, but even after this measure the public reported that it continued to suffer from extortion emanating from prisons.

“We discovered that some people were being extorted by presumed criminals who were incarcerated, but the calls were being made from public telephone booths located within the prisons,” said the FNA official.

To prevent this while safeguarding the human rights of the prisoners, the FNA requested to have the booths relocated to an area where guards could supervise the telephone calls.

The business community invests with confidence


Extortion is not only a danger to national security -- it also harms the economy. Rafael Medina, deputy director of Tegucigalpa’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIT), said that in the last four years 17,000 micro-businesses closed their doors across the country, as they could not continue to pay extortionists. But in 2014 this trend has been reversed.

“The response capacity of the FNA has reduced this crime, which has increased the positive perceptions of the business community, resulting in the opening of 700 new businesses in the year to date,” said Medina.

Up to October 31, the FNA had prevented the handover of $915,821 to extortionists, while in 2013 this sum amounted to $1,708,920.

He added that there will be a new amendment to Article 222 of the Penal Code. “Extortion will cease to be a private crime and will become a public offense. In other words, at the moment we need a complaint in order to act against extortionists, but with this amendment we can investigate whenever we become aware that the crime is being committed in an area,” said the FNA official. However, he called on the public to keep up the pressure and continue to report the crime.

In two years of confrontations with extortionists, four FNA officers have been wounded, because suspects are equipped with high-caliber weapons.

“FNA officers are trained to thoroughly investigate and analyze, but they are also ready for direct confrontations, because we are up against organized crime. This is a war that we are winning,” he said.

For victims of extortion, the FNA has provided the following telephone numbers: (504) 96418480, in Tegucigalpa; in San Pedro Sula (504) 95741341, in Comayagua (504) 27400509; and (504) 94821268 in La Ceiba.
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