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Crime, Corruption Killing Guatemalan Bus Drivers

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Another story we're following today involves a conflict in Guatemala. In that country, driving a bus can be lethal. Corruption, crime and poverty have led to deadly competition among rival bus owners and have also fueled an extortion racket. Armed gangs demand bribes from the drivers. Drivers who don't pay up often pay with their lives. More than 70 drivers have been killed already this year in Guatemala and the problem is especially bad in the capital, Guatemala City. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)

JASON BEAUBIEN: In Zona Quatro on the northwest edge of Guatemala City, Percida Iguara(ph) is waiting for the Number 70 bus, one day after a driver on the line was assassinated behind the wheel. Iguara is terrified of the public buses, but she doesn't have a car and she says this is the only way to get around.

PERCIDA IGUARA: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Iguara says the situation on Guatemala's buses is out of control.

IGUARA: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Drivers rent the vehicles by the day and they get to keep whatever proceeds are left after paying for fuel, protection and a meager salary for a fare collector. The faster you go, the more money you make. And why stick to your route if you can veer off and poach your rival's passengers? Or you could literally just kill your competition.

ADAIR GUARA: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: In addition, local gangs extort protection money or la renta from drivers who pass through their territory. Twenty-four-year-old Luis Enrique Shava(ph), who has been working as a bus assistant for six years, says drivers are scrounging just to make enough to eat. But he says drivers can't get away without paying la renta to the local street gangs.

ENRIQUE SHAVA: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Guatemala City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.