A photofeature by Adrian Øhrn Johansen
As a bus driver in Guatemala, you never know if you will return from work alive. A national report newly stated bus driver as the most dangerous occupation one can have in Guatemala. Last year more than 170 bus driver got killed in the country. So far this year, close to 40 drivers have been shot dead in Guatemala City alone.
Innocent bus drivers have become the target of dangerous street gangs, called Las Maras. The maras extort money from the drivers, or their companies, in order to allow them to pass through areas under control of the maras. If you don't pay the amount you're told, you're dead. The drivers are often poor, and the only alternative to keep driving the bus, is often unemployment.
Some areas of Guatemala City is said to be under total control of the maras. Some estimates goes as far as considering that the two largest maras, Mara Salvatrutcha and Mara 18, has 200,000 members. Just in Guatemala.
The origin of the Maras can be traced back to El Salvadorian refugees in Los Angeles in the early nineties. Both El Salvador and Guatemala was torn apart by years of civil war. Many of the refugees had war-experience. In the United States, many of them had a hard time finding jobs.
They started to commit crimes and organize in gangs instead. The gang problem escalated fast. In the end, the problem became so huge, that the US government started to deport the refugees back to their origins in Central-America. According to the magazine Foreign Affairs, 20.000 criminals were sent back to Central-America between 2000 and 2004.
Today the maras make a living out of killing, kidnapping, extortions and drugs. In Guatemala they have both police and government officials on their payroll. The killing of bus drivers is an example of what happens when a country is close to being torn apart by organized crime.
In 2008 approximately 6200 killings were committed in Guatemala, 17 each day, or one killing every second hour, making it one of the most violent countries in the world. According to the organization Amnesty International, 1% of the killings lead to sentence of a killer. Other estimates stretch the figure to 3%.
The killings can be quite grisly too. A woman`s torso was found in two bags in Zona 18. Later the same day the womans head also was found, in a nearby neighborhood. Together with the head was a note reading ”we want the bus money”. A nine week old infant was killed onboard a bus in Canalitos in Zona 24. Very few places in Guatemala City are considered to be safe. Especially not after dark. And especially not on the bus.