The extortion racket

One of the most troubling aspects in El Salvador's recent surge in violent crime has been the dramatic growth in instances of extortion. Gangs and other criminal elements, including corrupt police, have been implicated in demanding protection money from bus operators. In an article titled Your Money or Your Life, Raúl Gutiérrez looks at the problem:

SAN SALVADOR, Feb 15 (IPS) - Bus drivers and conductors are being targeted by extortionists and murderers in El Salvador. Lack of security, which also afflicts other trades, has become a profitable business opportunity for criminals and police alike.

At first, the authorities assumed that gangs were responsible for the crimes, but some members of the business community reported that police were taking advantage of the climate of impunity and muscling in on the business, which has already cost the lives of dozens of transport workers for not paying protection money....

In 2006, this kind of violence killed at least 70 drivers and conductors in the transport trade. In January 2007 another six people were killed and 25 buses were torched. This is the result of many people having refused to pay protection money or "taxes" to gangs running extortion rackets.

The public transport system has a nationwide fleet of about 12,000 buses. The state grants concessions to bus owners, who may own from one to dozens of buses, to provide transport on a given route. There are very few real bus companies or cooperatives.

Rodrigo Contreras Teos, president of the Salvadoran Chamber of the Transport Industry, said that violence has overwhelmed the response capacity of the state, leaving society and the transport sector at the mercy of the extortionists.

"We are trapped by a monster whose tentacles grow daily, and that has the ability to control territories, arm itself to the teeth and buy the compliance of the authorities. This is very similar to the situation in the United States in the 1930s," Contreras Teos told IPS, referring to the era when organised crime, with Al Capone as its best known boss, ruled the U.S....

A PNC source confirmed to IPS that 2006 saw a significant increase in extortion compared to previous years. In 2005 there were barely 493 official complaints, whereas in 2006 these shot up to 2,485. In 2003, there were only 290 complaints filed. The spokesperson declined, however, to give details about members of the police force who have been accused of extortion and other crimes.

At the end of 2006, the head of the University Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP), Jeannette Aguilar, told IPS that El Salvador was suffering from an authority vacuum in which criminals, organised or otherwise, take possession of territories and impose their rules, to the astonishment of a defenceless population. (more)


Anonymous said…
The last time I was visiting San Salvador, my friend (a Salvadorean living in El Salvador) was robbed at gun point at a bus stop. When we went to the police to report the crime, we were told to be careful as there had been many reports of violence in that area. Yet they all just sat there in the police station. I have never seen a police patrol at night in El Salvador, nor has anyone who lives there!
Anonymous said…
It´s must have been a quick trip he took. I´m not sure what he meant by the last part, unless he was referring to being out in the campo somewhere where police aren´t stationed. Most of those areas are low crime so you don´t see many police there. The ones you do see are usually on foot, and have to catch rides with citizens to get from place to place. My experience has been that police are very visible here, day or night, especially here in San Salvador.
Hodad said…
I agree with Wally
believe me I have lots of experience with the San Sal police, lol, jail 3 times even
lots of night time on the motorcycle with 'girls'

they are nice, profesional, and risk their lives for 200 bux a month, and especially the women what they have to put up with

they ARE out at night, they do have to beg rides, they are even on bikes now, [doubt they even have the money for maintainence on them, so any of yous guys so enclined for helping could probably bring/donate/buy some parts,oil grease etc.]

and they ARE in high crime areas, but the networks that alert those to police entering areas, well listen for the whistles

they do a very good job, in MY OPINION;
the problem of course is the Fiscalia and the Justice system.
corrupt asshole,good ole boys, hey just like here in Redneck Riviera, wadda ya know?
so, how does it feel as police to arrest criminals, put them in jail etc, for them to be let back out,. or seedy/greedy lawyers[same thing] get them out
but them you all know my solutions for lawyers,
fish bait!

the PNC does well I salute them and will take this time to apologize for all the peoblems I have give them with my ummmm, late night forays around town,

sometimes one is in the wrong place, at the wrong time
me, I am crazy, i go to Tutunicahpa at midnight if i want a joint, no one messes with me? but them i have lots of fishermen friends, hahaha

as in NYC. it is how one carries themself also
some folks fit the 'victim profile'
just be careful

Viva El Frente[just not FMLN]
ES needs Green Party, as does USA
juanp said…
Hey anonymous if your friend is a Salvadorean he should know better than going to the police. What were you expecting? The police are scared of being murdered as well. If something is going to be done about the crime it should come from higher up not a small time cop who gets paid peanuts. The police may not patrol at night because it's even more dangerous out. There is somewhat of a curfew in some areas that you should not be out after dark b/c of the gangs. It's a shame.