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Mafia of the Poor: Gang Violence and Extortion in Central America
April 25, 2019
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Author: International Crisis Group
Publication Date: April 2017

Summary: This report is based on dozens of interviews with officials and experts in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, including with security agents, prosecutors, donors, academics, activists and community dwellers in marginal neighbourhoods of San Salvador, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Born in the aftermath of civil war and boosted by mass deportations from the U.S., Central American gangs are responsible for brutal acts of violence, chronic abuse of women, and more recently, the forced displacement of children and families. Estimated to number 54,000 in the three Northern Triangle countries – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – the gangs’ archetypal tattooed young men stand out among the region’s greatest sources of public anxiety. Although they are not the only groups dedicated to violent crime, the maras have helped drive Central American murder rates to highs unmatched in the world: when the gangs called a truce in El Salvador, homicides halved overnight. But it is extortion that forms the maras’ criminal lifeblood and their most widespread racket. By plaguing local businesses for protection payments, they reaffirm control over poor urban enclaves to fund misery wages for members. Reducing the impact of these schemes, replacing them with formal employment and restoring free movement across the Northern Triangle’s urban zones would greatly reduce the harm of gang activity.

To access this resource, please click here: “Mafia of the Poor: Gang Violence and Extortion in Central America.


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