The Courage to Advocate: Fighting Extortion in Honduras
Like many business owners in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Ingrid and Elvin face the daily threat of extortion, corruption, and gang violence.
Their family of five lives in Nueva Suyapa, a neighborhood with one of the highest rates of violence in Tegucigalpa. Nevertheless, they are courageously tackling these challenges head-on to create a better life for their family—and for their community as a whole.
Nine years ago, Ingrid and Elvin started a moto taxi business and soon connected with our local partner Diaconía Nacional. They provided Ingrid and Elvin with access to capital, allowing them to expand their business by purchasing or repairing their taxis.
GROWING SUCCESS, GROWING THREATS
Over the years, their moto taxi business has grown and seen remarkable success. In addition to supporting their own family, Ingrid and Elvin have been able to employ five other individuals—equipping them to provide for their families, too.
But their success inevitably drew the attention of local gangs.
In 2013, Ingrid and Elvin began paying a monthly “war tax” of $1,200, roughly 25 percent of their total monthly revenue, just to continue operating. Sometimes, they had to stop working altogether because of the pressure and demands from the gangs.
For the next year and a half, Ingrid and Elvin suffered from anxiety, extreme stress, and exhaustion. Beyond the risks to their business, they worried about the safety of their three young children.
It was hard enough to grow a successful business while raising a family, but dealing with the gangs on top of it took its toll. Enough was enough. Ingrid and Elvin decided to present a claim to the Honduran government’s anti-extortion unit.
ADVOCATING IN FAITH
People who present claims like this are often threatened to be killed. But Ingrid and Elvin made the courageous move anyway, trusting that “God is always with us. He is the one that gives us the strength to move forward.” Whatever the outcome may be, they felt God’s peace in the decision to seek justice.
Since 2015, Ingrid and Elvin haven’t paid a single dime in war tax. Though they have been threatened to start paying again, they´ve remained steadfast in believing that if people unite against issues like extortion, they will overcome.
Emboldened by their success, Elvin co-founded the Legal Association of Moto Taxis in Nueva Suyapa. The Association brings together local moto taxi business owners to engage in advocacy.
Currently, Elvin is encouraging the Association members to legalize their businesses. Doing so will help the businesses obtain city operation permits, which recognize them as official public transportation providers. As such, they face fewer restrictions and can operate in more areas of the city.
Further, Elvin encourages the Association members and others in the community to take action and find a solution, because “once you start paying (the war tax), you will never stop.”
CATALYZING ADVOCACY IN THE PW NETWORK
This past summer, Ingrid was invited to participate in the first-ever Partners Worldwide Advocacy Summit in Tegucigalpa. The one-day event brought together entrepreneurs and partners in our Honduran network to learn how to advocate for environments where businesses and people can flourish.
At the Summit, Ingrid shared how entrepreneurs and community members alike live in fear of retribution in Nueva Suyapa. If they speak out or stand up, they risk their business, their lives, and the lives of their children and family members.
Despite this, she and Elvin have managed to fight extortion and advocate for legal protection for themselves and other entrepreneurs. Ingrid encouraged the audience that even in the face of insurmountable challenges, greater transparency and justice is possible.
Following the Advocacy Summit, we held an Advocacy Trip to Honduras in November of 2017. Volunteers from the U.S. joined our network in Honduras to begin implementing our new Advocacy Toolkit: a resource we’ve developed to help business leaders identify pressing advocacy issues and organize to address them.
We will continue to walk alongside entrepreneurs like Ingrid and Elvin as they courageously, faithfully seek justice. Though the pursuit of justice is not without its threats or challenges, we are compelled to follow the command to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).