Image for illustrative purposes
Image for illustrative purposes

Q24N – Criminal groups are stealing commercial shipments transiting Central America’s Northern Triangle, illustrating how insecurity in the region is negatively impacting regional trade.

A recent report from Nicaraguan news outlet El Nuevo Diario delves into the issue of highway robberies in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, focusing particularly on the plight of Nicaraguan workers in the commercial transport sector.

Marvin Altamirano, the president of the Association of Nicaraguan Transporters (Asociación Nicaragüense de Transportistas – ANT), told El Nuevo Diario that half of the Nicaraguan drivers have refused to take cargo through the Northern Triangle due to concerns about insecurity, resulting in up to $5 million per month in lost revenue.

According to Altamirano, 67 Nicaraguan drivers have been murdered during highway robberies over the past six years.

One Nicaraguan driver who has refused to travel to the Northern Triangle said he was held up by alleged gang members in El Salvador. The suspects forced the driver out of the truck at gunpoint and made off with a shipment of sesame seeds he had been carrying.

Altamirano said that the costs of insecurity stem not only from the losses incurred when shipments are stolen but also from the extra security measures transport companies have had to adopt.

The president of the ANT said that security devices and monitoring systems have cost the transport industry tens of millions of dollars over the past decade, and that costs for security guards to accompany drivers can range from $100 to $1,500 per trip.

Increased security controls at the borders of the Northern Triangle countries have also imposed an added burden on shipping companies, Altamirano said.

In addition to contributing to the extremely high levels of violence seen in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, criminal activity in the Northern Triangle has also negatively affected these countries’ economies. Crime groups in the region, particularly gangs, are estimated to extract tens of millions of dollars each year from extorting a wide range of businesses — including transportation companies — often with the complicity or active involvement of corrupt security officials and, at times, the employees.

The theft of commercial shipments represents yet another lucrative source of revenue for crime groups with damaging economic consequences. And it is not only shipments into, out of or within the Northern Triangle that are affected. Transport vehicles simply passing through the region have also been targeted. According to El Nuevo Diario, Guatemalan authorities recently discovered evidence of a robbery of a truck carrying school supplies from Mexico to Nicaragua.