Slum in Brazil

The Curious Impact Of COVID-19 On Gangs, Thugs, and Mafias

The coronavirus pandemic has upended social norms and economic relationships the world over. However, it may still come as a surprise that organized crime groups in some countries are scrambling to address the disruptions and chaos. While some of these groups may consider the pandemic an opportunity to extract resources and consolidate power, others are responding with uncharacteristic concern for their communities.

El Salvador

The LA Times reports on a recent “historic feat” in El Salvador. For two days in a row in March there was not a single homicide nationwide. This is remarkable because the small Central American state has been at or near the top of the list of countries with the highest homicide rates. In 2017, it recorded nearly 4,000 murders, a rate of 61.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. By comparison, Mexico with its violent drug cartels had a rate of 24.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. For the United States, the number was only 5.3.

For now, in El Salvador, the notorious street gangs have turned their attention toward enforcing social distancing. Some have used social media – widely distributed audio recordings and videos – to threaten those who flout quarantine protocols.

The United States and Italy

The Daily Beast reports that the New York mafia is taking an unprecedented financial hit during the COVID-19 lockdowns in that state. The enterprises that have long been extorted by local crime syndicates have almost all been shuttered. This includes restaurants, construction companies, gambling halls, and transportation operations

Meanwhile, the report suggests that the mafias in Italy are poised to thrive. They are involved in medical supply importation and control “large swaths of the agricultural industry.” Experts believe that they will take advantage of the post-pandemic situation by making onerous loans to struggling entrepreneurs.

South Africa

In crime-infested townships around Cape Town, rival gangs have called a truce. In what some consider a true sign of the apocalypse, the groups are working together to provide food and support to their struggling communities. While a pastor there hails this as a miraculous breakthrough, at least one public official is not ready to forgive the murder and extortion the gangs have perpetrated over the decades. Watch the BBC report below:


The militant National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia has declared a ceasefire for the month of April. The guerrillas have been battling government forces for half a century, attacking strategic interests around the country. In January 2019, the group detonated a car bomb outside of the Bogotá Police Academy, killing 21 and injuring 68. It was the deadliest attack on the capital in 16 years. The ELN says it has been inspired by a recent call for the cessation of worldwide hostilities from the the Secretary-General of the UN.


Gangsters in Rio de Janeiro’s notorious slum, “City of God”, are enforcing a curfew to stem the pandemic there. Residents report horrible sanitation conditions, including a lack of running water. They fear an outbreak of COVID-19 would be disastrous for the 37,000 impoverished residents of the slum, many of whom are already struggling to feed their families. The community garnered international attention after the 2002 release of the acclaimed film City of God, which depicted organized crime in the slum from the 1960s to 1980s. That picture was nominated for four Academy Awards.

City of God Movie Poster - Gangs and Coronavirus


A villainous gang of mountain goats has invaded the modest seaside resort town of Llandudno, Wales. The miscreants have been witnessed clip-clopping through the streets, nibbling the hedges, and sniffing things. Quarantined residents can only watch from their windows as the mayhem ensues.

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