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Bolivia: The Life of a Taxi Driver in El Alto

Blogger Wilfredo Jordán from El Alto, Bolivia takes a closer look at the life of a taxi driver, who drives the streets of his hometown on a daily basis. In addition to the long working hours for little pay, they often must face dangerous situations from passengers that have sinister motives. The following is an extended excerpt from a recent posting at his blog Vivir en Bolivia [es] (Live in Bolivia):

La vida no tiene precio, y un taxista que ha trabajado en las calles de El Alto lo sabe muy bien. Varios de ellos, además de lidiar con fallas habituales de sus vehículos, ya que muchos son adquiridos de “segunda mano”, o la imprudencia de algunos choferes, deben enfrentarse con la delincuencia, a tal grado de que cualquiera puede perder la vida o estar cerca de ello.

Life is priceless, and a taxi driver working on the streets of El Alto knows this quite well. Many of them, in addition to dealing with the regular breakdowns of their vehicles, as many of them are purchased “second hand,” dealing with the recklessness of other drivers, they have to deal with crime, so much that one can lose one's life or close to it.

Jordán highlights some of the cases of taxi drivers facing these real life dangers, as had happened with Germán Quispe, who was strangled by a rope from behind, but was saved when a friend happened to pass by. Another driver faced a similar situation in March 2009:

Como Quispe, cientos son los taxistas que afrontan estos riesgos, el 22 de marzo de este año, Moisés Chambi Blanco, de 24 años, recogió a unos pasajeros de la Ceja con destino a la zona Juana Azurduy de Padilla, en el sector de Río Seco. Cuando pasó por el camino a Laja, cuya carretera es poco iluminada, uno de ellos sacó un arma y le disparó en el rostro.

Los delincuentes, creyendo que había muerto, tiraron el cuerpo a un costado de la vía; pero más tarde Chambi recuperó el conocimiento y fue internado de emergencia en el Hospital Sagrado Corazón, en la zona de El Kenko.

Just like Quispe, hundreds of taxi drivers face these risks, on March 22, 2009, Moisés Chambi Blanco, 24, picked up some passengers at La Ceja (the transit area between El Alto and La Paz) with a destination of the neighborhood of Juana Azurduy de Padilla in the area of Río Seco. When he passed along the road to Laja, whose highway is dimly lit, one of the passengers took out a gun and shot him in the face.

The criminals, thinking that he had died, tossed his body on the side of the road; however, later Chambi regained consciousness and was admitted to the emergency room at the Sacred Heart Hospital in the area of El Kenko.

Despite these risks, Jordán profiles the individuals that decide to become taxi drivers in El Alto.

La mayoría de los taxistas se dedican a este oficio por la falta de trabajo, y lo hacen sin ganar mucho, incluso, sin un vehículo propio. Así, una jornada de trabajo, que oscila entre las 06.00 y 20.00, salda de 80 a 150 bolivianos, de los cuales 50 le corresponden al propietario del motorizado, 30 se va a la gasolina y el resto es la ganancia del conductor.

The majority of taxi drivers work in this job because of a lack of other work opportunities, and do so without making much money, and many do not own their own vehicle. One of these work days start at 6 a.m. and lasts until 8 p.m., and they earn between 80 and 150 bolivianos (approximately $11 – 21 USD), of which, 50 goes to the owner of the vehicle, and another 30 goes towards gasoline, and the rest are the earnings of the driver.

Jordán spoke to one of these drivers for a first-hand account:

René Machicado, quien pertenece al Sindicato Arco Iris, representa uno de esos casos. Con una experiencia de 19 años tras el volante y luego de haber trabajado en el desaparecido Servicio Nacional de Caminos, decidió laborar por su cuenta.

“Actualmente las empresas sólo reciben personal para poco tiempo y no permanentes como antes. Ahora todo es con contratos determinados y no conviene porque no es un trabajo seguro”, indica y añade que éste, además de ser un oficio peligroso, es sacrificado, pues se deben soportar largas jornadas, incluso turnos nocturnos, que es cuando más peligro existe.

René Machicado, who belongs to the syndicate Arco Iris, talks about these cases. With 19 years of experience behind the wheel, and after working for the now-defunct National Road Service, he decided to work on his own.

“Now, companies only hire personnel for short periods of time and not permanently like before. Now everything is with short-term contracts and it is not worth it because it is not a steady job,” he says, and adds that driving a taxi, in addition to being a dangerous job, requires sacrifice because one must withstand long hours, even night shifts, and that is when it is more dangerous.

The danger is demonstrated that between in 8 months in 2008, statistics indicate that there were 10 cases of vehicle theft which resulted in the murder of the driver.

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