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.