At least two bus routes around San Salvador have been hit by drivers striking to demand that the authorities protect them from extortion demands by gangs.
According to El Salvador’s La Prensa Grafica, the bus drivers of the 119 route from Chalatenango, on the country’s northern border with Honduras, to San Salvador have all but stopped working for the last week, providing “irregular” service in order to draw attention to their cause. They were joined this week by drivers in Soyapango, a crime-laden municipality in the San Salvador area.
As is the case in much of Latin America (including Colombia and neighboring Guatemala), bus drivers are frequently targeted by local gangs. In El Salvador this includes the MS-13, who regularly charge them “protection fees” on penalty of death or injury. In April, IPS reported that 625 bus drivers have been killed since 2006, 29 of whom died in the first three months of 2011 alone.
Extortion of buses and delivery trucks is a highly profitable venture for street gangs, because drivers generally carry their day’s earnings in cash on their persons.
Deputy Minister of Transport Nelson García told IPS that the government is considering reforming the public transportation system so that customers will instead use a system of prepaid cards, but logistical and cost concerns associated with this plan ensure that it is still a long way off.