Extortion depends on threats of violence and the assumption that the state cannot protect its citizens from those threats. The violence that gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 have proven themselves capable of generates fear and hopelessness among the communities in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, where the gangs are behind the extortion economy.

Fear of losing their property, belongings or even their lives – and the lack of trust in state institutions that are mandated to protect them – is what in many cases drives people to migrate within their own countries or abroad in hopes of fleeing the threats and starting anew.

If quantifying the number and type of acts of extortion is a complex task, determining how many people are internally and internationally displaced due to extortion and adverse socio-economic conditions is even more complicated.

These three stories narrated and illustrated by Guatemalan journalists describe the challenges and threats that people face when being extorted by gangs and when interacting with the authorities and with ‘coyotes’ (human smugglers) when they decide to emigrate north.

A new neighbourhood, a new life

Many Guatemalan families that are threatened by gangs leave their homes behind and flee to protect their lives and avoid extortion. This fear created by organized crime leads to forced migration within their own country.

A new neighbourhood, a new life

The unstoppable Central American migrants 

Whether alone or travelling as part of a caravan, migrants are exposed to a dangerous journey when crossing illegally into the United States. Unable to withstand the situation in Central America any longer, they flee north, while criminal structures modernize and strengthen the migration business.

The unstoppable Central American migrants=

Covering extortion in Guatemala

Despite the risks faced by journalists who cover extortion issues, they feel it is important to inform the public and delve into the stories of criminals and victims, and the way these organizations work, because extortion is one of the crimes that most affects residents of Guatemala City – one of the areas where communities are most subjected to extortion.

Covering extortion in Guatemala

To delve deeper into these stories and the journalists who, in their narratives, identify the challenges and threats suffered by victims of extortion, listen to our latest episode of the Coalitions for Resilience podcast here (content in Spanish).