Gunning Down Guatemala’s Bus Drivers

Bus drivers in Guatemala City are being murdered at a rate of one every other day, according to recent newspaper claims.

Like most Latin American capitals, the streets of Guatemala City are teeming with gangs. And like most Latin American capitals, the streets of Guatemala are teeming with buses. Police with semi-automatic rifles guard the entrances to most fast-food restaurants but gangs control the city.

Gang leaders extort money from bus drivers, illegally charging them obscene amounts of cash in return for ‘protection’ from other gangs.

Killed at the Wheel

They tell the drivers to hand over the money or something will happen to their bus, and when they can’t pay up many of them are killed at the wheel.

Last Friday (23 October) Channel 4’s foreign affairs programme Unreported World, showed a documentary entitled ‘Guatemala: Riding with the Devil’. It interviewed grieving widows and told how they had pleaded with their husbands to leave their jobs, but because of poor employment opportunities the drivers refused.

When I was living in Guatemala City my journey to work involved a 45-minute bus ride across the capital or a 20-minute taxi ride if the killings had been particularly bad that week. For most of the population, however, taxis simply aren’t an option and so they are forced to ride the buses and pray that nothing happens.

It’s a Way of Life

These brutal murders are a way of life for Guatemalans and the statistics appear in newspapers over there with the same frequency that the words ‘MP’s’ and ‘expenses’ do here.

It’s rare anyone’s ever caught, but when they are the gang members see the murders as routine punishments

In the last three years 342 drivers have been killed and many more injured. Just yesterday (26 October) a man was shot dead in front of his passengers after he failed to hand over Q12,000 (£1000) to a gang member. In a separate part of the city a 15-year-old boy was murdered when his dad, a bus driver, couldn’t come up with the money.

The Problem’s Getting Worse

The government has responded by putting occasional armed guards on buses but since gangs infiltrate the police force it’s impossible to maintain security on public transport and locals insist that the problem is only getting worse.

Decades of neglect from both the current government and past ones have resulted in gangs running the city and breeding destabilisation and fear into residents. Many people believe Guatemla to be in a state of emergency.

International solidarity and action are needed to improve the situation, but how can this be achieved when international media refuse to recognise these atrocities as newsworthy?


1 Response to “Gunning Down Guatemala’s Bus Drivers”

  1. 1 Turumarth January 28, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Guatemala´s bigest problem right now is insecurity in the capital city, and the public transportation is the one that is suffering the most.

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