The president of Guatemala's association of transport workers complained last week that some criminal groups are demanding that bus companies pay an extra extortion tax before mid-December, in addition to the quotas that drivers already pay.
Edgar Guerra, the president of the association, made the comments during a press conference on November 3. Transport company owners already pay an average of 150 to 400 quetzales (about $19 to $51) in extortion fees per week to the "cliques" that make up the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs, he said. Now some companies are being pressured to pay an even higher extortion tax per bus during December, when employees traditionally collect their "aguinaldo" or Christmas bonus -- an additional full salary paid to workers at the end of the year.
Gangs in one neighborhood in Guatemala City are asking the local bus company to pay an extra 1,000 quetzales (about $128) per bus before December 15, according to Prensa Libre.
The head of a government anti-extortion task force told Mexican newspaper El Universal that these demands for holiday bonuses are nothing new, and that the gangs have been collecting such payments since at least 2008.
InSight Crime Analysis
Bus extortion is easy, low-risk, and highly profitable for street gangs, which helps explain why criminal groups run such rackets from Guatemala to Medellin, Colombia. During last week's press conference, Guerra highlighted just how much money is at stake for the MS-13 and Barrio 18 cliques from the transport business: there are 2,500 urban buses in Guatemala and 13,000 buses serving rural routes, as well as up to 5,000 unofficial countryside buses, the majority of them paying up to 400 quetzales (about $51) per week in extortion fees to criminal groups.
Extortion has made the transport industry one of the most dangerous in Guatemala. According to Guerra, so far in 2012, 49 bus drivers, 38 cab drivers, and 43 motorcycle taxi drivers have been killed in the country. September saw three bus drivers gunned down in a single day.