3/14/2015

Headline Mar 15, 2015/ ''' GANGS-GUNS-GRIEF : ''GUATEMALA'' '''


''' GANGS-GUNS-GRIEF : 

''GUATEMALA'' '''




''THEY WERE  all killed by a security committee,'' says Ochoa.

''They work with the co-operation of the police and have a policy of social cleansing, to eliminate gang members. But their attitude is that all young people are criminals.''

Old men lean vacantly on walls. A child runs past a derelict bus, a bottle of Coca-Cola clutched to his chest as a preacher in the marketplace points and proclaims. Motes of spit dance and fall from his lips as he rails at all the heathens.

This is where Victor ''Fender'' Garrido grew up. Now 26, the story of the youngest marero: the gangster known as Little: ''His real name was Byron. He was eight years old. He carried a .38 and a Bible everywhere he went.''

Little's parents were in command of eight gangs. 

GUATEMALA is just about the most attractive country in the world to launder money.

As more of the barrios fall under narco control, the criminals find cannier ways of securing loyalty. 

In these hostile zones, in which the poor build their own houses, few, very few services are supplied by the state. And so the traffickers provide security, and more.

''In one barrio, a narco was jailed and the community rose up and protested in his favour,'' Castro says. ''He'd build a hospital and provided medicine. The loyalty was with him rather than the state, because the state doesn't have any money.''

I ask about narco infiltration of the political system, says the author. A Guatemalan journalist told me of local candidates mysteriously having campaign budgets of tens of million of dollars.

''I'm sorry. I'm going to answer this like a politician,'' says Castro. She glances away. ''It's difficult to respond. It's very delicate.''

EL PERIODICO NEWSPAPER reports that in the first three months of 2012 the city saw 1,345 murders.

There are an estimated 10,000 mareros who have 30,000 collaborators. And if one ever thinks of leaving one of these gangs-

''If you go out, you are in grave danger. Ex-members are called muletas. It means 'crutches'.''

Mezquital has the same look as Peronia: the buildings have been made in a hurry from cheap materials, their amateur construction betrayed by their blockish simplicity.

The family of Sammy Ochoa moved to Mezquital in a period known as ''the exodus''. In 1976, there was an earthquake and the country was being fractured by civil war.People who had lost their homes came here, to a forest on the mountainside.

To help them, the government built around 1,000 two-roomed houses. When rumours of the construction spread, thousands more arrived. They made their own dwelling from scavenged wood and plastic and corrugated iron.

''I remember the football field and playing in the river with my friend Julio,'' says Ochoa. ''My mother sold rice and beans and my father worked in a soap factory. My elder brother was in a gang called 'Cobra'.

Gang-life was different in the mid-Eighties. 

''When I was in primary school, being in a gang was about being belonging to the community. If there was a dispute, they'd have a boxing match, and whoever lost would shake hands and respect it. There was respect.''

Some gang members moved to the US, where they learned a new culture. Many were deported. And when they arrived back in Guatemala City, they returned with different attitudes, different ambitions, different weapons.

Ochoa was 10 when he noticed that everything was changing.

''I was coming home from school and someone fighting. That was normal,'' he says. ''But this time, I heard shooting. From that moment on, all the gangs started to get arms.They took on American names. People would get shot for being in the wrong gang. I lost six friends.''

Today, along with all other activities, the gangs, or maras, in Mezquital extort the locals. ''Its about seven dollars per family, depending on your income,'' he says,''If it's a good looking house, you pay more.

They are well organised. On each block they have a spotter who sees who's coming in and out of each house. The spotters call the collectors who get payment. 

They're kids who do these jobs. The person who calls on my mother for money is 12.''

Back in Peronia, Garcia's 53 years old mother, Dionisia, swirls in passion and grief:

''I lie in bed at night, and often hear the distant moan of La Llorona  ''The Weeping Woman'' coming from the ravines where my son once gathered stick for kites. It's the souls of all the people who have been killed down there''.

When asked what it sounds like, she raised her eyes and let out a long, slow heartbreaking wail.  

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'''Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless

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