Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Violence in Guatemala

Living in the relatively safe section of Guatemala City that I we do, it's easy to forget the violence that plagues the country. I've lived in towns before that had 300-500 homicides per annum, but I saw a figure city this past March that Guatemala had over 6,000 violent deaths in the first quarter of 2010 alone.

The "good" news is that the majority of violent deaths seem to be hits targeting specific people (rival drug dealers, gang members, wrong end of a business deal, politically motivated, you name it). Also targeted are people with flashy cars or expensive cell phones. Point? There seems to be a point to most of the killing - it's less random than one might think.

So what do I do?

- My car is not fancy and I don't wash it much
- I hide my iPhone, don't use it when I don't have to, or even leave it in the car
- Limit night excursions
- Stay out of known dangerous areas

Additionally, if you speak Spanish fluently, you can try to appear less like a gringo by using Guatemalan Spanish when possible. If you learned Spanish in another country, you've probably noticed that Guatemala has a few unique linguistic traits that other countries don't - if you learned it here, it might not be so obvious. Your accent has to be pretty good to begin with, or you'll be labeled as a gringo anyway.

On the other hand, I know of a former Israeli soldier who has a security company here - in a presentation I was at, he made the statement that kidnappings are less likely to happen to foreigners because of the reluctance to get other governments involved. I haven't had enough experience with kidnappings to say for sure, but that seems at best to be a guess - something to think about, anyway. This wouldn't apply to robbery, though.

The point of this somewhat rambling post is that you learn to live with the violence. It's difficult to deal with when someone you personally know is gunned down (this happened recently) but you deal with it. Or you leave.


  1. I experience Guate first hand this past June and July. I was a bit shocked by all the men with big guns, but got used to seeing them after a few days. It is just weird shopping at stores with armed guards. I was accompanied by hubby's family members and my husband-and no one bothered a white, fat, blonde blue eyed gringa. I am fluent in Spanish, and speak Guate slang as well, so I am sure I fit in language wise. We stayed in a safer part of zona 18 and I really didn't venture out at night except with hubby in the late model Toyota we had shipped down. I sat outside alot, the colonia where my brother in law lives is pretty quiet, and just off Ruta Atlantico. No one bothered me, and times I went up the road to the store usually my mother in law came with me to keep me from getting the gringo price lol. All in all, I felt pretty safe, didn't do anything to call attention to myself, did not carry a purse, kept my quetzales in my bra like my mother in law did, and pretty much laid low. It also helped that my brother in law had his gun on him at all times, just in case. (yup, he has a legal permit for one, cost about $1000 USD for the permit and the gun but well worth it to him after he was assaulted and almost killed for his Toyota truck a few years back)

  2. Thanks for your comments, Michelle.