You may be aware of the history of violence on the buses ridden by Guatemalan citizens, particularly in the capital. If you’re not, please be aware that the facts included in Guatemala: Extortionists Target Bus Riders are disturbing. The good news is that progress has been made on some buses, by instituting a system of prepaid cards that remove the need for the driver to have cash on hand. Here’s an excerpt:
Since 2004, 917 bus drivers have gone straight to the cemetery.
The deaths, which include 50 so far this year, are the result of gangs’ extorting bus drivers and bus company owners, according to the government.
Bus drivers often have to pay extortions three times a week to criminals working with gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio-18, and Los Paisas, who have burst onto the scene, according to Rony López, a prosecutor for cases involving organized crime. The gangs receive most of their orders from incarcerated leaders.
In a single week, a bus company owner may have to come up with $70,000 quetzales (US$8,879) to pay extortionists, according to López.
“The money we earn depends on the number of passengers that get on the bus. If we have to pay extortion, we earn only $40 quetzales (US$5) a day. Then, we still have to pay our bus assistant,” said Carlos Rosales, a bus driver who has been on the job for 26 years. “This situation has a huge effect on us.”
The most violent period for bus drivers in the Central American nation was from 2006-2009, when there were as many as five bus drivers killed a day as the result of extortion.
“Five bus drivers killed a day.” Astounding.