Brand power in Honduras: Lesser known gangs claim affiliation to infamous 'maras'

Honduras warns that some criminal groups have claimed to be affiliated with feared 'mara' gangs in order to intimidate their victims. There are reports of similar 'cartel impersonators' in Mexico, too.

Luis Romero/AP
An imprisoned 18th Street 'mara' gang member in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador.

InSight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas. Find all of Geoffrey Ramsey's research here.

Honduras' anti-extortion task force warned of cases of crime syndicates claiming to be affiliated with "mara" gangs in order to intimidate their victims, an indication of the fear associated with street gangs in the country.

In a Nov. 5 press conference the deputy director of the Interior Ministry's anti-extortion task force, Arturo Sandoval, said that organized criminal groups have been conducting extortion rackets by falsely invoking the names of street gangs. Sandoval said that his office has recorded several such cases since its creation in April, reported La Tribuna.

The official added that so far in 2012 his office had received 580 complaints of extortion, up from just 14 complaints in 2010 and 138 in 2011, a trend which Sandoval credits to greater awareness of police reporting hotlines, and a wiretapping law passed in December 2011 which allows law enforcement to monitor phone calls. 

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InSight Crime Analysis

If true, Sandoval's claim would demonstrate the brand power that street gangs like Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 have in the country. It would mean that in order to cow their targets into paying, lesser known criminal organizations are using the fear associated with these gangs for their own purposes.

A similar phenomenon has been observed in Mexico City, where "cartel impersonators" make their living by threatening residents with violence on behalf of groups like the Zetas and the Familia Michoacana, even though they have no connection with them.

In both of these cases, however, these extortionists put themselves at risk. None of the organizations they are impersonating are likely to appreciate outsiders using their brand, and the impostors could face deadly consequences.

Geoffrey Ramsey is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.

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