Driving a taxi has become one of the most dangerous professions in Honduras, where the public transport sector is under constant threat from gang extortion and violence.
In the past two years, 153 taxi drivers were murdered and 17 others wounded in violent confrontations, while 32 passengers were also killed, according to Honduras’ National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH).
In some of the most disturbing cases, detailed by El Heraldo, a dozen taxi drivers were kidnapped and then killed, a driver was murdered in front of his children, and another was shot dead by a 15-year-old as he waited to pick up passengers.
According to CONADEH, one of the principal dangers taxi drivers face on a daily basis is extortion by gangs, with other taxi drivers and police also possibly involved. The Associated Press described one case in which a 68-year-old driver was shot and killed by a youth thought to be linked to the Barrio 18 gang, after the driver's collective went to the police because they were unable to pay the $1,000 extortion fee demanded of them.
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The problem is not limited to taxi drivers: extortion in the public transport sector is a huge problem in Honduras, particularly in the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, where criminal groups are estimated to make over $27 million a year through so-called "war taxes." Extortion is now so bad in Tegucigalpa that various bus routes have been suspended, reported Proceso.
Taxi extortion is a threat throughout the "Northern Triangle" region -- Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador -- leading whole taxi fleets to use unmarked cars and prohibit drivers from entering certain neighborhoods. Salvadoran newspaper El Diario de Hoy recently published a list of ten places in the greater San Salvador area where taxi drivers refuse to go.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Extortion
Both El Salvador and Honduras are attempting to address bus extortion, with Salvadoran authorities equipping some new vehicles with security features such as global-positioning systems and panic buttons, and using card readers in place of cash.
However, there has been little in the way of solutions regarding taxis, whose drivers often complain that police are non-existent in gang-controlled areas, and who fear going to potentially corrupt authorities to report the crime. The result is an impunity rate of around 95 percent for murders of taxi drivers in 2012 and 2013, according to CONADEH.