Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Bus Burns Up, but the System's Burnt

A bus carrying children from church in Magdalena Department turned into a flaming hell the other day, killing 31 kids and severely injuring about 20 others after its unlicensed driver poured gasoline onto the carburetor.

That driver is now in jail, as is the Presbetyrian minister who apparently hired the unlicensed driver along with the bus, whose registration and mechanical review documents were expired.

The minister, left, and bus driver, right, in police custody.
Of course, these two men should be prosecuted for this totally needless tragedy. But what about the authorities who allowed a disfunctional machine to stay on the road and continue transporting children? What about officials who turned a blind eye to this unlicensed driver, whose mechanical knowledge and ethics evidently left lots to be desired.

When a bus crashes, when a building collapses, when a discoteque burns, when a coal mine catches fire, fingers point at the final obvious villain: the careless driver, the construction company which used cheap materials, the mine owner who cut costs by leaving out safety measures.

But what about the officials who allowed the tragedies to happen by turning a blind eye to the legal violations - and will again, unless they are punished? How many other buses with expired papers and unlicensed drivers are carrying children around Colombia? I bet there are lots.

In rural regions, I suspect, the good old boys do each other favors by overlooking details such as drivers licenses and mechanical revision certificates. But nobody did these dead children or their families any favors.

Unless the underlying system changes, expect more tragedies - and more bus drivers taking the fall for a disfunctional system.

On a related note, I can't help commenting on the quote from one of the severely burned children, published in El Tiempo, saying that 'God loves me.' I feel for the victims and their families, I hope that God loves them and I'm happy that their faith gives them comfort at this terrible time. But, burning a child to the edge of death and killing his friends is a very strange way for a god to express his love. The faithful will say that the tragedy was the act of men (and probably women as well), and that God saved the survivors. But if God is everywhere, then where was He when the driver was about to pour the gasoline onto the carburetor, and why didn't God puncture the gasoline container? Where was God when police let this unlicensed driver stay on the road? How about when officials turned a blind eye to the delapidated old machine?

And, needless to say, if anybody should be under God's protective, watchful eye, it should be children on their way home from church.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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