(QCOSTARICA) A late night telephone call, demanding ¢3 million colones in payment or be killed, is one of several retailers in Barrio Cuba, on the south side of San Jose, filing a complaint with the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ).
The callers, calling themselves the “Cartel del Sur”, are extorting business people in order to finance the war between rival gangs in the area.
“When I heard their demand, I got so angry I told them I would not pay anything. We never got to the point of when to pay, because I threw the phone. They are crazy, I will never pay them,” the Barrio Cuba merchant, whose identity is being protected, told La Nacion.
The merchant filed a complaint with the OIJ on June 29, the incident had taken place a few days earlier on June 25.
According to the Ministerio de Seguridad Publica (MSP), Barrio Cuba is not the only area with this porblem. The MSP say similar complaints have been received in Linda Vista de Desamparados, callers demanding up to ¢5 million colones to let the retailers stay open for business.
In the days following, the retailer of small auto parts (who lives above the store) says his storefront has been shot up on four separate occasions, usually at night by drive-bys on a motorcycle, presumably by the group attempting to extort him.
The merchant said he had to send his daughter to live elsewhere, fearing her safety in such a dangerous situation.
Like him, three other area retailers, who have also filed complaints with the OIJ, say they are asked to pau from ¢50.000 to ¢3 million colones in exchange for not being killed.
The judicial police do not rule out others being extorted, including even victims having made payments, but do not report it for fear.
The Barrio Cuba merchant says he has not gotten any more phone calls since he no longer answers his phone from “private” or “restricted” callers. The businessman says this is the first time it has happened in the nine years of being in business in Barrio Cuba.
Another affected, filing a complaint with the OIJ on July 6, tells the story of how three youths, between 18 and 20, without even covering their faces, came into his store and demanded payment of ¢50.000 colones.
“The muchachillos (young men) came in without covering their faces. I got concerned when they walked in, so I asked what they wanted. They said they were going to charge me ¢50.000. I told them they were crazy, I got angry and they left,” said the merchant.
The merchant said they haven’t come back since.
The local delegation of the Fuerza Publica (police) say they are aware of the group(s) operating in the area, but find it difficult to take action because the residents do not normally report the incidents or follow through with their complaints.
To control the situation, police have stepped up patrols in the area.
“The good think is that there are now a lot of patrols and this wards them off (the criminals). What we fear is what will happen when the police stop coming aorund,” concluded the affected businessman.
“The OIJ tells us to gather our things and leave, but, that’s not possible. If we leave, we don’t eat,” says another of the victims.