Guatemalan Bus Drivers Prepare for Total Strike

June 29, 2007

GUATEMALA CITY – The wave of violence besetting Guatemala claimed the lives of another bus driver and his assistant June 12 in a sector on the west side of this capital, authorities said.

A spokesman for the Municipal Firefighters said that a group of armed men, supposedly members of a youth gang, fired at a bus whose conductor refused to pay them the so-called “circulation taxes” they demanded.

“The driver was identified as Rodolfo Quiñonez, 38. He died from multiple bullet wounds after being admitted to the emergency room at RooseveltHospital,” the spokesman said.

The driver’s assistant, a 22-year-old man whose name was not available, died at the scene of the attack.

Dozens of passengers jumped off the moving bus to save their own lives when the shooting commenced.

Minutes after the incident, in a nearby poor neighborhood of Guatemala City, police captured two supposed gang members when they tried to attack another bus.

Police spokesman Carlos Calju told reporters that “the arrested people could be the ones responsible for the murder of the driver and his assistant which occurred on San Juan road.”

The constant attacks by gang members on bus drivers who refuse to pay protection money have forced transit company owners to consider calling a general strike to demand that the government guarantee their safety.

The buses from Guatemala City to the popular colonial tourism town of Antigua stopped running earlier this month following repeated gang attacks along that route (NT, June 8). The service has been sporadic since.

Several other bus drivers in Guatemala

City went on strike last week following the

most recent murders.

So far this year, some 65 drivers and assistants have been murdered, a substantial increase over the 52 killings carried out over all of 2006.

Driver Acquitted

In a separate case earlier this month, a Guatemalan court acquitted a bus driver for his killing last September of a gang member who had sought to extort him.

In a June 13 ruling, the court said that Natividad Trejo “acted in legitimate selfdefense” when he shot and killed a gang member who was trying to squeeze him for money.

The court found that Trejo had a license to carry the firearm with which he defended himself and also determined that the gang member – along with three other individuals – threatened to kill Trejo if he did not pay the “circulation tax.”

The court also took into account that the driver, after shooting the gang member, waited for police officers to arrive so they could determine whether or not to place him under arrest.

Hours before the court’s decision was handed down, Guatemalan President Oscar Berger said that, by firing at the gang member, Trejo “defended his life” and “repelled the attack of a criminal with a lengthy record of committing crimes.”

Berger said the killings of bus drivers could be gang members’ response to arrests made by police in their attempt to combat this scourge.

The President, however, has previously acknowledged the inability of security forces to halt the wave of violence affecting ordinary Guatemalans.

Service in Jeopardy

Luis Gómez, the president of the Association of Transport Workers of Guatemala, told reporters this week that it “is impossible” to continue providing bus service due to the constant harassment by the gang members.

But so far, the protests and partial strikes that transport workers have held for the past two months appear only to have had the effect of increasing the gang members’ attacks on the drivers and assistants, endangering thousands of commuters.

According to industry sources, each day more than 200 city buses are attacked and the drivers of about 1,000 of the vehicles are forced by the gang members to pay about $15 each to be allowed to circulate through the parts of the city where they hold sway.

 

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