A total of 18 bus drivers have been murdered in one region of Guatemalan since 2012, indicative of the dangers that transport industry workers face across the region.
A transport workers' association, ATRUCH, based in the capital of the eastern Chiquimula department, has asked police for better protection following the killing of 12 drivers last year and six more in the first four months of 2013, reported Prensa Libre.
The ATRUCH president said that many of the homicides were related to extortion, adding that police have made no arrests in any of the cases.
According to Prensa Libre, the governor of Chiquimula said that a police investigation found that the homicides were due to disputes between rival transportation companies, and had nothing to do with extortion.
In a case illustrative of the kinds of pressures faced by transport workers, driver Mario Hernandez told the newspaper that he had received threats from alleged criminals demanding that he pay 50 quetzales (about $6.40) a day or be killed. Accounting for the other costs he was responsible for -- including buying gasoline -- he was only left with 60 quetzales (about $7.70) for his personal daily salary, Hernandez said. This was not enough to cover the extortion payment and provide for his family, so he quit his job, he added.
InSight Crime Analysis
As previously reported by InSight Crime, criminal groups have made driving a bus in Guatemala arguably one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Extortion is a major earner for the country's largest street gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, as well as the many smaller organizations, and public transportation is the most common target. Drivers on thousands of routes across the country are forced to pay an average of 400 quetzales (about $51) a week. Refusal to pay brings deadly consequences -- between 2007 and 2011, more than 500 drivers were killed in violent incidents.
The problem is not limited to Guatemala - drivers in El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia face similar threats. However, it is unsurprising that Chiquimula should be struggling to keep its transport workers safe -- the department is the most violent in the country, registering a homicide rate of 89 per 100,000 inhabitants last year.