Writer Billy Briggs and I were in Guatemala to document the escalating violence and human rights abuses in one of the most violent nations in the world. There are more killings per day than there were during the dark days of a civil war that ended in 1996. The killing of women, the execution of selected individuals by elements within the police and military, gang and crime-related killings ‘Social cleansing’ by vigilante groups, and other acts of random violence have created a widespread sense of insecurity. Guatemala is a nation living in fear.
The early hours of Sunday morning at the San Juan de Dios hospital and young men who are victims of gang stabbings and shootings arrive in increasing numbers.
In San Juan de Dios hospital, former gang member Gersen Armando Ramirez Santos (aka Lucifer) 26 lies seriously wounded, as surgeons fight to save his life after he has been shot twice in the chest allegedly by police. He died twice on the operating table. Ramirez was born and brought up in L.A in U.S.A joining the local Mara 18 gang when he was 10 years old.
He was sentenced to life without parole when he was 15 years of age but after serving 9 years, 6 of them in the hole, he was released because of police corruption charges and returned to his parents country of Guatemala. We met up with Armando at his girlfriend’s home on the morning we left Guatemala, he was making a surprisingly, speedy recovery.
Monday morning at the City Morgue, zone 3, after a weekend of violence is a busy place, with families waiting to identify their loved ones.
The body of Colonia Marianita De Villa Nveva, 19, is delivered by police after having been found dead with a bullet in the head.
Violence against women is commonplace.
We met Maria Elva Palma the grieving mother of Santos Marlene Flores who was brutally murdered by a policeman neighbour who lived only a few doors away. The father of Santos, Alberto Antonio and sister Areely Gomez de Hernandez 40 [who witnessed the killing] hold a photograph of her. The family are still living in the house where she was slain.
Odilia Medrano Pineda,56,pictured in church, was brutally raped beaten and left to die by her attackers. She could hear them discussing whether to decapitate her but they decided against it because she appeared dead and it would take too long. They then returned to her house where they raped her daughter Dora,18, [who had a mental age of 13] and set her on fire. She died in hospital from 90deg. burns. Her faith in God has given her the strength to go on.