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Guatemala: Making the country safer proves a hardship for the poor

By Mayra Beltran de Daetz

GUATEMALA: The Government of Guatemala has decided to make changes to the mobility of two people on a motorcycle. Since May 9, 2009, two people caught riding together on a motorcycle are fined Q1,000.00, approximately US$125.00.

The reason for the change in law is that they have estimated that roughly 80% of the murders committed in Guatemala have been by two people riding on a motorcycle.

The government expects this measure to be successful since it produced good results in other countries. The officials cite the city of Medellin, Colombia where crime rates fell by 40% over a period of six months after changes in their motorcycle laws.

The above changes are covered under Government Agreement No. 105-2009, which came into effect April 9, 2009 and could last as long as a year. As with every rule, it has its exceptions and, of course, both police officers and Police City Transit may continue riding motorcycles carrying two people.


This new rule includes that the motorcyclists “must” wear a fluorescent yellow jacket with reflective signals horizontal and vertical ones over it, as well as, the number plate on the motorcycle jacket. It must be visible to a distance of 5 meters.

This means that an estimated 600 thousand motorcycles circulating must incur such costs, so you do the math. The jackets are being sold on the informal trade, ranging in price from Q35 to Q40 roughly about U.S. $ 5.00.

Like any change, this has been no exception in creating discontent among users of motorcycles. They have organized and carried out protests for the law not to be enforced. Why?

It affects the family economy, since such transportation is used to take the children to school, the wife to work. This is true in our Guatemala, as was commented by Vice-President Rafael Espada. He saw a motorcycle that was carrying the whole family (Dad, mom, son and even the dog).

But not only are protesters left dissatisfied, but the defenders of the Constitution of Guatemala, said that this agreement violates the right-to-free movement and that under the Traffic Act, states can allow as many passengers as there are seats in or on the vehicle.

For its part, the representative of Motorcycle Importers Gremial, associations and related groups discussed the constitutionality of the action.

Also the media has interviewed managers of the enterprises that import motorcycles who are concerned that combined with low sales due to the global economic crisis, this new law will affect them.

Also private security firms argue that their costs will rise as they have to buy more vehicles and increase the use of fuel. Other associations such as the Mutual Support Group believe that this harms the poorest families.

And if we see the view of the general public through the survey conducted by Prensa Libre, in both the print and digital editions, the margin is close. The telephone survey indicated that 48% is in agreement and 52% no. While the online survey showed that 49.1% is in agreement and 50.9% no.

Among the most notable murder cases that were confirmed to be made by thugs riding on a motorcycle:

On April 14, 2009, Khalil Musa, 74-years-old and his 47-year-old daughter were murdered. It shocked the industry because Musa was a recognized executive. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial (CACIF) have demanded the authorities give a maximum effort to find the people responsible of such a crime.

Kevin Josué Velásquez Castañeda was riding his bicycle and shot for no apparent reason. He was only a teenager.

Rolando Sántiz, a journalist of Telecentro Trece, was shot and killed and his cameraman Antonio De Leon was seriously wounded.

Carlos Roberto Velasquez was a bus driver. Just one of the hundreds of bus drivers and assistants that have been killed by organized gangs.

I believe that the new measure may help the violence in Guatemala but it will hit the household economy of many people of low income. I think it would be better to implement other measures to lower violence. The feeling of most people in general is that nothing will change and it will only lead to further discontent.

Despite the many opinions in favor and some other findings, the Vice President said that they will not reverse the changes to the new traffic regulations.

Learn more about Mayra:

Mayra Etna Beltrán Molina de Daetz is a native-born Guatemalan who lives in Guatemala City with her husband and teenage son. After attending one of the most noted secretarial schools in the country, Mayra graduated with a secretarial certification — and the ability to speak and write English, as well as, know French.

Yet, she wanted more of a career and so she took architect and graphic design classes at a local university in Guatemala City. Unable to finish her university studies due to finances, Mayra became a stewardess and has over 100 hours in the air.

Yet, she always wanted to be involved with the media and so she returned to school and was able to get a degree in sales and marketing.


As a result, she has worked for a weekly magazine and a newspaper.

I have had opportunity to attend International congresses, in which I have known very important people at the more important international newspapers, which has been a very gratifying experience and has allowed me to have friendships outside of my country.

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