Honduras Steps Up Gang Member Arrests
By Kay Valle/Diálogo September 14, 2016The Ministry of Security of Honduras presented positive results in the fight against gangs in a press release published on August 4th. It says that in 2016, Honduran law enforcement agencies increased their security operations, leading to the arrest of more members of criminal groups. The operations undertaken were: “Padlock,” “Liberator”, “Lempira” and “Avalanche.” Authorities reported that “Operation Avalanche,” resulted in the arrest of 12 persons, including MS-13 leaders and collaborators, delivering a blow to the gang’s nationwide criminal activity. When comparing the first half of 2016 with the same period in 2015, 61 more gang members were captured, a 20 percent increase.” The report also stated that the arrests prevented gang activity, which consists mainly of extortion and burning transport units. Extortionists use the strategy of burning buses to instill fear in the populace so they can continue to extort money, which is their main source of income. Crimes prevented by gang member arrests The joint efforts of the National Police and other government law enforcement agencies prevented the criminals from forcibly displacing members of the civilian population, said the report, given that the gangs' criminal activity mainly targets the educational and transportation sectors. Lieutenant Colonel Amílcar Hernández, director of Honduras’ National Anti-Extortion Force (FNA, its Spanish acronym), said the arrests put a stop to $2 million of extortion payments so far in 2016 and have prevented approximately $7.3 million of extortion payments over the FNA’s three years of existence. Another crime prevented by the stepped-up arrests is “toll-style extortion,” which according to Lt. Col. Hernández, takes place when “gangs (usually the Barrio 18 gang) exact a toll from merchandise distribution trucks that enter their territory.” Gangs are responsible for 80 percent of the money extorted from business owners, said the lieutenant colonel. Employees, industry competitors and owners’ relatives account for the remaining 20 percent. In addition, since the rise of extortion, the transportation industry has been impacted the most, followed by small businesses that don’t have private security systems. A key factor in the arrests The best way to fight crime, especially extortions, is to report the crime. In order to carry out their mission, the FNA launched a campaign to encourage people to report crimes by calling the emergency number 143. According to Yuri Mora, spokesman for the Public Ministry, law enforcement and judicial officials have a way to receive anonymous complaints. “The Public Ministry has regional and local Attorney General Offices that can receive complaints. In the case of the National Anti-extortion Force, they have local and regional hotlines citizens can use to report crime.” For his part, Lt. Col. Hernández stated that “the 143 hotline was created to channel nationwide information through a single toll-free phone line created for reporting extortion (in the past there were multiple crime hotlines, none of which were free). A solution like the 143 hotline is easy to remember.” Dialing 911 is still the way to call for an immediate response to emergencies and to report crimes. The 143 hotline was launched on August 5th and is being publicized by newspaper, radio, and television so that the Honduran people become familiar with this new resource and use it specifically to report the crime of extortion. Lt. Col. Hernández stated that the hotline received 8,120 calls in its first 19 days of existence, and various extortionists were apprehended. Lt. Col. Hernández confirmed that the FNA’s work makes citizens feel safer. Arresting the ringleaders of criminal organizations also helps improve the security situation, he said, noting that the arrests can be linked to lower homicide rates. Besides receiving crime reports, FNA gives anti-extortion talks to small, medium and large companies. “All they have to do is ask. If a small business owner cannot leave their business, we meet with them in their homes. We also give out printed resources and give a brief talk so they are not afraid of reporting the crime and helping bring in criminals,” said Lt. Col. Hernández. “Every arrest is a result of someone reporting a crime. We have the logistic and human resources to help people. They should feel confident that law enforcement agencies have emergency response teams that can bring peace and harmony to the Honduran people and protect their property,” concluded Lt. Col. Hernández.