The murder of six taxi drivers in Guatemala in six days calls attention to the targeting of transit workers by organized crime throughout the region.
Hector Ruben Matzar Ijchajchel was killed as he arrived at a residence in Villa Nueva, a suburb of Guatemala City, to hand over his takings to the owner of the taxi firm, Prensa Libre reported.
Matzar had reportedly witnessed an attack on a former colleague's son just days before he was murdered.
Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla said that the attacks were directly linked to extortion by gangs, who carried out their threats so that the rest of the victims would pay up out of fear. He said that the government had formed a working group to investigate the crimes, according to Prensa Libre.
"What we see is a pattern, a modus operandi linked to drug trafficking and organized crime, specifically on the topic of the robbery of vehicles and all that goes with it," Lopez Bonilla said.
InSight Crime Analysis
Extortion is an important revenue source for organized crime in Guatemala, and in countries across the region. Transit workers are particularly vulnerable because they carry around large amounts of cash and because their work makes them highly visible and easy to target. A January 2012 country report (see pdf) by Human Rights Watch counted 183 murders of bus drivers in Guatemala in 2010, and 105 in the first eight months of 2011.
However, in this case, it is also possible that Matzar was killed in connection with the murder he witnessed.
Extortion is inherently accompanied by high levels of violence, more so than crimes like drug trafficking, because in order for criminal groups to successfully demand payments, they must maintain a credible threat level.
In Mexico, taxi drivers often serve as lookouts and couriers for drug traffickers, exposing them to retribution attacks from rivals.