El impuesto de guerra

13 Mar

Before I arrived in Tegucigalpa I had visions of riding one of the ancient yellow school buses to and from work. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I found out that, for the most part, public transport is considered too dangerous for AFS participants or UN employees to use.

This week the traffic seemed a bit busier on Monday morning, and there was also something different I couldn’t quite place my finger on.

“There’s no (public) transport today,” my taxi driver informed me.

Of course. The something different was the lack of buses.

“They’re not operating because another bus driver was murdered,” he casually added.

“Oh,” was all I managed to respond. I wasn’t quite sure what else to say.

Part of my role at UNICEF is to the prepare the daily media summary. One of the first online news items I saw that morning was about the poor bus driver. The images they use in the newspapers here are often more graphic than at home, so skip the image if you’re very squeamish.

El Heraldo

As with most of the bus and taxi driver murders here, they suspect that he was killed for not paying what is colloquially known as ‘el impuesto de guerra’ or ‘war tax’. It’s essentially extortion committed by the local gangs.

To ensure safe passage through gang territory drivers must pay the gangs a specified amount of money on what can be a weekly or daily basis. The gangs also target local businesses. These two recent articles by InSightCrime and infosurhoy provide some more detail.

Refuse to pay and you risk being executed. It happens all the time. According to this article local transport companies claim more than 90 workers have been killed in similar circumstances.

In fact, the very next day there was another news item about a second murdered bus driver. (Warning: graphic image.) Again, it’s suspected he was killed for not paying el impuesto de guerra.

One of the editorial cartoons in yesterday’s paper highlighted the growing problem:

Translation: Unfortunately Death has become another passenger

Translation: Unfortunately Death has become another passenger

More than 180 drivers stopped work on Monday to protest the wave of extortion they face on a daily basis. It’s a huge problem, but unfortunately, like many issues here, there doesn’t appear to be a quick fix.

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