Honduras' security forces have begun an operation to increase security for bus and taxi drivers who are targeted for extortion by urban gangs -- a problem that affects countries across the region.
According to Armed Forces Chief of Staff Rene Osorio Canales, some 100 military and police personnel have been deployed in the operation in Tegucigalpa, protecting bus stations and taxi points. Since there are not enough soldiers and policemen to patrol every route, authorities will focus on the eight routes designated as the most dangerous, before expanding the program in a few months, reports La Tribuna.
Extortion by gangs, who threaten drivers with death if they do not pay, has previously caused the closure of some bus stations in the city.
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Bus companies are particularly vulnerable to extortion, as they handle large amounts of cash and their representives, the drivers, are highly visible and easy to target as they go about their work. As InSight Crime reported last year, more than 500 bus drivers were killed in Guatemala between 2007 and 2011, making it arguably the most dangerous job in the world.
In El Salvador, drivers on some of the major bus routes around San Salvador recently called strikes to demand that the authorities protect them from extortion attacks. Some 635 drivers were reportedly killed between 2006 and early 2011. One suggested solution was for passengers to buy their tickets via prepaid cards, so that drivers would carry less money on them.
The Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs are thought to be responsible for much of the extortion of drivers in these Central American countries.
In Medellin, Colombia, some 80 percent of buses reportedly make extortion payments, facing assassination and arson attacks if they do not.
Honduras' action against this region-wide issue follows an announcement that it would double prison terms for extortion.