Murders of public transport drivers in Guatemala more than doubled in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period last year, a sign of rising peril in what is already one of the world's most dangerous professions.
A total of 97 bus, taxi and mototaxi drivers have been killed so far this year compared to 46 in the first six months of 2012, according to government figures reported by EFE.
Murders of women have also risen in the same period, from 263 in January to June 2012 to 354 this year. Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla attributed this to a rise in women's involvement in crime, reported Prensa Libre.
Meanwhile, a Public Ministry spokesperson said trash collectors and prostitutes working in the center of Guatemala City were being extorted by gangs. Up to $100 is being demanded from trash collectors weekly, while prostitutes are "taxed" between $15 and $20, according to officials.
InSight Crime Analysis
According to the government's figures, Guatemala has seen a rise in all murders of around 7.5 percent during the first half of 2013 compared to 2012, following a significant drop in the homicide rate over the last three years. However the massive leap in deaths of transport workers goes far beyond this, illustrating how drivers face disproportionate levels of danger. According to trade association Coordinadora Nacional de Transporte, more than a thousand drivers were killed by organized criminals between 2006 and 2012.
Extortion is a major income source for the principal street gangs in Guatemala, the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, as well as smaller organizations, and transport workers are an easy target. The fact that even low-income street workers are being targeted illustrates just how entrenched extortion is at all levels of Guatemalan society.
The rise in the number of murders of women also exceeds the overall upwards trend in murders, but it is dangerous to write this off as simply a result of more women becoming involved in crime, as the minister attempted to do.
One theory for the uptick in murders is that the maras are attempting to show their strength in order to pressure the government into giving gang leaders special treatment in jails or even agree to negotiations like those seen in El Salvador.