"Extortion is like life insurance. If you don’t pay up you get killed"

REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Anastasia Moloney has an interesting article on Deadly gang extortion rackets drive emigration from El Salvador. Some statistics jump out.

  • Up to eight buses arrive daily at the main migration centre in El Salvador’s capital, carrying scores of Salvadorans who have been deported by the Mexican authorities as they tried to make their way north to the United States.
  • A February report by the Technological University of San Salvador showed that of 747 Salvad[aron] migrants surveyed, 42 percent said they left their homes because of violence – compared to just five percent who cited that reason in 2013.
  • According to a 2015 poll by the University Institute of Public Opinion in San Salvador, nearly one in every four Salvadorans said they had been a direct victim of extortion.
  • children working for gangs have to collect a daily “renta” of 10 to 25 cents from each of their classmates.
  • bus drivers and fare collectors are forced to pay gangs from $18 to $26 million a year.
  • Around 1,000 drivers and conductors have been murdered in gang-related killings over the last decade, he said.
  • Nearly 80 percent of all informal and small businesses, like family-owned stores and supermarkets, pay extortion fees to the maras…Such demands force up to three small businesses to close every month, shoring the emigration wave.
  • Payments range from $5 a week for a street seller to $30,000 a month for big businesses, with an extra “Christmas bonus”.
  • Police authorities say around half of all extortion payments are ordered from behind bars.

Extortion is one of the important reasons why Salvadorans feel such high levels of insecurity. All types of business owners have to pay extortion. According to the article, so do school children. However given all that we’ve heard, it is surprising to read that only one in four had been a direct victim of extortion (at least according to one survey). Perhaps within the last year?

Violence has caused many people to flee their homes and their country. However, only 42 percent of people in another survey reported that they had left their homes due to violence. It’s possible that people could be afraid to answer the survey questions truthfully. Wouldn’t you be? It’s also possible that the two survey could be outliers of sorts. The responses to the extortion and violence questions seem low, no?
Many drivers and fare collectors have been murdered in gang-related killings over the last decade, presumably most or all because of not paying extortion. However, one bus driver said that he had never paid extortion. A gun helps keep him safe. Another hotel owner simply reports threats; he no longer carries a gun. Authorities even arrested an individual related to a recent extortion plot. I wouldn’t encourage people not to pay extortion exactly but I found these two stories positive. Extortion is pervasive but it is not all pervasive and there is opportunity to just say no. 
Okay, I’m reaching here.

Read the entire post.