Sunday, June 29, 2014

What The Poor In Guatemala Have to Look Forward to: The Vultures Are Waiting

Vultures waiting atop the tombs stacked one on top of the other in the General Cemetery in Guatemala City

This story was written by a friend of Borderland Beat, K.Mennem,  who has been working in Central America for the last several months doing on the ground research about what is happening there.  Because the surge of migrants from Central America trying to get into the US (coming through Mexico and facing all the risks of that voyage) has caught the attention of main stream media and the public and has caused such a debate about “why do they come”, K wanted to share with BB readers one perspective from Guatemala City that illustrates the poverty, violence, and despair that these people live with.  Other stories by K. Mennem can be found at his blog, Hell on Earth.. 

By K. Mennem 
All photos by K. Mennem

The feeling of death in the air is undeniable when approaching the General Cemetery in Guatemala City, one of the largest in Central America. The feeling clearly not only from the cemetery, but what surrounds it, living on a thin string among it.

The sound of trucks hauling trash to the nearby city dump, where hundreds of people work and live among the waste piles, often muffle out the gun shots and screams for help that routinely ring out in the adjoining slums. Victims in the nearby neighborhoods do not have to travel far to be laid to rest, as most of the public are buried in the General Cemetery.

The General Cemetery in Guatemala City
Guatemala, as a nation, often falls into the shadows of neighboring Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador. International headlines rarely come out of Guatemala, despite its capital racking up more homicides than any cities in the region.

The bloody MS-13 and Barrio 18 gang rivalries in El Salvador and Honduras have astonished readers worldwide, as well as the cartel wars in Mexico, but the epidemic of violence from these gangs is just as brutal in Guatemala.

Making a living in the mundane economy of Guatemala City is tough, where the average citizen makes under $300 per month, but living a long life may be even tougher in a place like this.

Guatemala City had the fourth most homicides in the world in 2013 by official figures. According to the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, a non-governmental agency based in Mexico, the city had 2,123 homicides in 2013. This topped 2,063 in 2012 and is slightly below 2011’s figure of 2,248.

The all so feared neighboring capital of El Salvador only registered 780 homicides during the year.

The only three cities in the world with more homicides in 2013 were Caracas (Venezuela), Fortaleza (Brazil), and Salvador (Brazil). In comparison, Chicago witnessed 415 and Ciudad Juarez had 505.

Riding through the city of over three million people can be uneasy, as taxi drivers lock doors and roll up windows in blistering heat. Antonio, an elderly man who has driven these streets for over two decades, suggests passengers stay off their cell phones and not make eye contact with those standing around on corners. When speaking of the city, Antonio has a hard time, from constantly repeating “Muchos problemas, muchas drogas”. Lifetime residents like Antonio recommend not being out after dark, as well to never walk alone, if at all possible.
nearly empty city square

 In 2009, the city went as far as to ban passengers on motorcycles, as drive by shootings on two wheels are all too common in the city.

Homicides stack up each night at an average of four to eight by day break. Often dozens more are wounded by stray bullets and failed attacks from the low caliber weapons many street thugs carry.

In late 2013, a law passed that can send anyone straight to prison caught with a firearm, versus the previous practice of house arrest before trial. 

Despite the aura of fear, residents hold a lot of pride in their city and nation. Residents like taxi driver Antonio, say the option of migrating to the U.S. has become less attractive as the path is now guarded by bandits and gangsters all the way through Mexico to the U.S. Some still risk the journey, but most do not even consider the option.

Hope may be unwarranted, but still yet can be seen in the faces of some in the city.

Hundreds of women and men showed up to march on Dia de la Mujer (International Women’s Day) towards the city square. Everyone had their own cause and organization, but the underlining message for the rally was that peace and safety should be essential for the people of Guatemala, not a dream for a seemingly disposable population.

Carolina, who helped promote the march, stresses the importance of women showing strength in a city that makes women appear as easy targets. “Women are often perceived as much weaker than men in Guatemala. Women must show their strength and that they will not submit to men who think of themselves as superior.”

A capital city which seems to be militarily occupied with private security, police, and soldiers armed on every corner, still has not found a way to control a generation of parentless youth who roam the streets every day. Many men were killed off during the civil war that lasted till 1996, others migrated north looking for work, and more recently large numbers have fallen victim to street violence. Women are forced to work long hours to put food on the table, leaving the young generation vulnerable to end up in a tomb before adulthood. 

Despite possibly being the world’s capital for armed forces toting pistol grip shotguns, the youth still does whatever the hell it wants. Going into the cemetery at night to do drugs is not necessary, as most public places seem to be suitable. In a city square where tourists should be taking photos and sightseeing, marijuana is being smoked by groups of young men. Instead of women catching a safe ride to work, bus stops are full of kids huffing glue. Robberies and street homicides are rarely prosecuted in a city that has a hard time investigating much of anything.

Outsiders often claim that the violence consists of only gang members killing other gang members, but a large portion of the citizens are genuinely scared of their own city. Men are afraid for their families. Kids on the street are looked at as if they are up to no good. Women are often the most at risk, marginalized, abused, and disposed of as easily as garbage at the dump.

The fear of riding buses has become immense, as violence is inevitable on the congested rides through the city. In the first six months of 2013 alone, 97 bus and taxi drivers were murdered across the nation.

The city cemetery itself often sees over 12 funerals a day. Many estimate that over 80% of these died an unnatural death. On top of the homicides, drug overdoses and vehicular deaths are common in the city. Funeral lines often enter the cemetery back to back to bury their loves ones. Some funerals are packed with mariachis and booze, while most are merely family members etching the deceased name and date of death into wet cement. 

Massive communities of vultures make their home in the cemetery and adjoining city dump, splitting their time swooping between tombs and picking at trash. The inpatient stare of these animals makes one think they know each human’s life here has days numbered. 

The cemetery itself has a sizeable community of people that work and live inside the cemetery. Travel far enough into the back and you will find food stands, a soccer field, and small homes. Kids wander the cemetery in small groups to wash graves for a few coins.

Those laid to rest in the cemetery are not always at peace for long. According to Hugo, a longtime cemetery worker, rent to remain in the small and stacked tombs is expected every four years and can be higher than building a home in the slums. “Many families do not have money when the time comes”, says Hugo. When payments are not made, bodies are pulled out of tombs a few times annually and sometimes merely slid down into the massive dump, which lies down the hill directly behind the cemetery.
although this wide angle shot does not show them, there are many people down there sifting through the trash

Staring down the endless rows of tombs, it is impossible to count how many graves are fresh within the last few months. The number of tombs that have been excavated dot the walls too frequently.

The city effectively picks up waste across the city, so residents take advantage of earning a living by wading through it. The dump itself has become a refuge for a whole community. Standing next to a tower of tombs in the cemetery, you can look down and see makeshift homes scattered through the city’s waste.  Residents of the dump opt to make homes in the trash, waiting for the next load to come in with the possibility of finding something of value.

The residents of the dump seem to have found some sort of peace by living amongst the cities garbage, not having to worry about becoming a victim of the reckless gangs that roam the city. For these people, life in garbage beats getting killed off in one of the cities many slums.
the slums as well as the cemetery adjoin the city trash dump


  1. studied Spanish in Antigua back in the day....I wonder how safe that place is now?

  2. Brothers and Sisters this is true. But not the whole story. I have lived in Central America for much of my life. Im 50. Central American capitols are not pretty, are violent and dangerous this article is actually fairly lite. The great people who struggle to honestly work and have a life there without emigrating, their story needs to be told too, not just mentioned. Missing is the immense corruption of aid monies. This needs massive reform that will include criminal prosecution of public figures, and some foreign contractors as well. Immigration reform will not solve nor address these fundamental problems. Solidarity and consciousness raising will help, but as long as these populations grow in both number and material desires, these problems will present themselves at the US doorstep.

  3. That poverty and misery that is prevalent in Central America is more than enough reason why C. Americans make the dangerous journey through Mexico in an attempt to make it to the U.S.A. If they are able to make it the U.S.A.,, just getting a minimum wage job sure beats the miserable wages they pay the average worker in C.A. Hell, even getting a job as , even if its for a little while, a cartel sicario in Mx. sure beats the living wages in C.A. The govt.s of C. America, are indifferent to the plight of their citizens. Or if the govt. is interested in bettering living conditions for their people, obstacles are created by the opposition and the elite they represent inorder to block much needed reforms. There has to be a breaking point in C.A./Mexico in which the people of Mexico/C.America will say Ya Basta! When will the time for the breaking point come for the people of Mexico/C.America is a good question waiting to be answered.

  4. Id rather bury my loved one in a shallow grave than to have them buried and probably exhumed. FUck that. No wonder they risk it coming over

  5. 10:47 obstacles are created by the opposition to block...
    ...are you talking about President Obama's US of A?
    --civil war, in guatemala, murdering indians by the kaibiles and other graduates if the School of the Americas, also known as the school of the assassins, and a gift of the US to central america, headed by giniral efrain rios montt, with all the impunity they would need, could be called "civil war" by some, i'd rather call it a campaign of depopulation, against the indians of guatemala, as against those indians of the rest of the world, nobody needs them, except, maybe for spare parts or sex toys for the rich who command the murderers of our indian populations, and of anybody that gets on the way...

    1. Actually no. However, at the end of the day the U.S. is the root of the problem of C.A. along with Mexico. The training of assassins by the school of the Americas, the CIA, etc., to murder/subjugate the people of C.A. is another hindrance put forth by the U.S; however, these govt.s do not need the U.S. to train their assassins. Nonetheless, it does add to social ills. No, what I'am talking about is the consecutive victories by the former guerrilla movement FMLN in El Salvador's presidential elections. The opposition party ARENA blocks any legislative measures that could bring about much needed reforms in El Salvador. Arena wants to maintain the status quo of the have and have nots. Regardless of ideology, however, if the culture of corruption is not addressed in C.A. and the nation's of Latin America, there will never leave the third world status they find themselves in. As is the case of Mexico, if it weren't for the looting of the nation's patrimonies by a minority of corruptos, Mexico would have a paradise. They could redistribute the wealth that the constitution of Mexico states belongs to all Mexicans. Furthermore, if the Spanish and Portuguese descendants of Latin America are not in it for their Indigenous, mestizo, bi-racial, African brothers and sisters, then don't let the door hit you on the way-out of the Western Hemisphere.

  6. Stay in ur country we dint need to be paying more taxes so some of the people that r crossing to the usa r freeloaders all tge come for are food stamps and medicaid and who do u think pays for that yes us staty in ur country we cant affored more taxes for these people to come leach off us goverment

    1. I'm gonna write this real slow cause I know you can't read fast... I know illegal immigrants who pay their taxes and never claim any benefits. You quit leeching off of them and give the natives back their territory. You can't even spell properly. Do illegal immigrants have a better grasp of the English language, than an all american idiot? The fact you can't read or write might be the reason you're so misinformed. Keep watching Fox News where wealthy people pay rich people to tell poor fools like you what to think. The nerve of this guy.. wouldn't know how to succeed in his own country if an immigrant came an taught him how to do a days work. If you where successful you wouldn't have to complain about paying taxes. Wealthy people in the US usually don't. Why don't you cry about that? While you fill out your broke ass tax return next year. On which, you probably cheat. Your spelling is atrocious by the way. I can only gather by it, that you are probably a recipient of welfare and medicaid as the majority of the recipients are white Americans. Which I can only assume you to be by the cut of your jib. También venimos y le damos unos cuanto chamacos a tus parientas mientras nos arreglan los papeles y un sandwich. -Mayo Regio

  7. Mr Stay in your Country aka 6:53AM

    first off, if you would go back to school and get an education you may learn to read and write.

    and you will learn that the only help undocumented persons receive is WIC (formula/diapers) and emergency hospital care. Contrary to bigot belief they do not receive food stamps, social security, welfare including aid to dependant children.

    ER care is 80% women in labor ready to give birth. Yes, Medicaid reimburses the hospital, but migrants do not get Medicaid.

    LESS THAN 1% OF MEDICAID goes to hospital emergency payments (partial) for migrant care. That means 99% goes to American freeloaders, most likely you are one of those people and think "those "illegals" who staty in r country r going to take it all, we didnt need paying more taxes.

    1. Well said ^^^

    2. Spell check idiot u think u so smart

    3. If they have no papers and she gives birth in the usa the kid get everything moron but im a us citizen and i have to pay for my kid health ins

    4. 8:49 am ur so full of crap

  8. Everytime i hear about these third world countries having high rates of murder, i get a bit happy.

    If regular people that live a mundane life die, the world literally becomes a better place.

  9. I agree, stay in your own nation; most of us here in the states are waking up to the fact that you hate us anyhow. That being the case - why the hell should we help you through OUR tax money?

    1. I don't think sales tax at the liquor store count. We like America fine, that's why we where here before you. As natives we should have free range on our ancestral lands. It's those people that moved in over 400 years ago we cant stand. So we've decided if we can't run them out we'll breed them out. Taxes? You should still be paying us natives for encroaching on our land. You're the one trespassing. You're the ones benefiting from us. We're still not done building this country for you. All because, your children are spoiled and too lazy to do an honest days work. Is that why white people are the number one recipients of government assistance programs?

  10. Figure I'll put this in the conservative American perspective and not sound bigoted. Illegal immigration does cost the US. Say what you want of them 'not mooching' but a large number of illegals have massive families that, no matter how frugal you are, can not be fed on the wages they make, let alone allow them send money back to their home countries. It's not mathematically possible. Minimum wage in the USA is not even gonna pay the way of a young single male, let alone dependents. Americans are, more than any other country I might add, willing to welcome people, especially if there's a positive contribution. However, being nice (especially with our immigration) can lead to being taken advantage of. I've worked in construction for various years and though I'm white I have no problems with Mexicans/Central Americans on a person to person level, as a matter a fact I often get along with them better than my white counter-parts. However, I can tell you that there's also no way in hell that your average middle class American isn't supporting and subsidizing them. Your average Gringo isn't a lazy coke using decadent who lives the big life off the backs of hispanics, the majority go to work everyday and do everything they can to support their families. That ethic is the main reason America is successful. However, being asked to support wave after wave of 'helpless immigrants' is difficult when the average American (the most productive worker in the industrialized world, might I add) is working they're ass off to get themselves by.
    Anyhow, peace in the hizzy.

    1. Thank you well said

    2. Thank you for that we'll thought out argument that you present without having to resort to bigotry. If more people were like you, on both sides of the issue, problems might get solved. I am US born of Mexican descent so I do have sympathy towards those who go through such suffering to reach this great country. I love my culture but that does not prevent me from loving my country and swearing my allegiance to her. So it hurts me to see latin-americans display such disdain for this great nation just as much as it bothers me to see so much hate and ignorance coming from those on the right. For those who dislike this country I say it may not be perfect but it's the best the human race has come up with and I think that's pretty dam good. For those who simply see these people as an invasion of brown skinned criminals looking for a handout, some of u are misinformed some are wilfully ignorant and then there's those who are set in their hateful ways and nothing will ever change their minds, but for those who have sympathy I ask what would you be willing to do for the safety and survival of your family, I'm positive most of us if we were in such dire situations we would be willing to do just about anything. I do understand the valid concerns that people have when it comes to mass migration and I don't have the answers but I believe that if we can deal with this in a rational manner as opposed to resorting to name calling and bigoted rants something good can come of it. This can be dealt in a humane way but in a way which is respectful of the rule of law and addresses concerns about who is allowed to be here.

  11. To all the White American readers here:
    Boycott Mexico, work within the system to seal our borders and STOP immigration until we fix our economy here. No more free rides for foreign born! Nien, niet, none.

    1. It's not profitable to seal the border. This guy is obviously not an economic genius.

    2. Can we deport you and replace you with an immigrant who's willing to work and not feel entitled to an awesome standard of living just by being a "White American"?

  12. At some point, the countries such as Guat/El Sal/Honduras are going to have a French Revolution of sorts. Not sure how long someone will continue to be treated as less than dogs by their own.

    I'm not certain about Belize but what makes Costa Rica & Panama such success stories? (And no it's not their dissolution of a military). They simply do not have the crime , poverty, & low educational levels of their peer Countries.

    And if its the narcotics "business", then Peru should be the biggest crap hole in Lat Am. But its not even in the running.

    Its a certain "Colonial" mentality still prevailing in certain Countries. Its like 1700-1800's Europe (from which the largest majority of white Americans ancestors fled) with an East LA group of gang members twist.

  13. This panteon show at times the rotting corpes can be smelled from within the thin concrete.

  14. Some great american president said about anastasio somoza, nicaraguan president, "he is a sonofabitch, but he is OUR sonofabitch"...
    the US governments went on to supporting him and his descendant satrapy of a family until jimmy carter said "no mas" and the sandinistas toppled the somoza dynasty, after that the nicaraguans had to put up with the contras, supported by the iran/contra bushites and sleeping reaganautas...
    if the US government would stop supporting our latin american national satrapies with your hard earned taxes, in the form of cash, weapons, military training, maruchan for the gorillas, scools of the assassins, bombs, war ships, and banana corporations, and stop trying to prevent the indians from becoming communistas by getting them murdered or growing coca and marihuana, FOR ONE YEAR, american conservatistas and liberals would see some changes, and grow some friends, and we would not be invading the US with our undesirable presence and miserable spectacle...
    like if the US had not went to nazi europe, we would have been spared the ugly sight of the emaciated, living or dead, jewish victims of the beautiful master race...
    arena is another conservatista organization, they don't want intervention, they only want weapons and impunity to stick it to the indians...
    --if anyone believes their taxes are spent helping latin america, you might be wrong, united fruit co steals enough to finance the subjugation, as do the mining companies and drugs harvested, oil and tourism, and the US supplements their expenses with millions of dollars that the chinese lend them to keep infiltrating latin america as they have infiltrated the US at all
    levels, technological, workforce, science, commerce, corruption, casinos, etc etc etc, all those wars to prevent communism from taking over latin america seems to have not worked, thanks to conservatistas from the US...

  15. Someone asked what makes Belize, Costa Rica and Panama success stories. I believe Belize due to the British colonizing it, and still having military there. Tourist dollars from the beautiful reef also helps. Costa Rica has massive US influence. Panama has massive US influence - yet since the US has left in 1999, Panama has started to deteriorate.

  16. The chickens are coming home to roost. The consequences of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America at the behest of corporations and bankers is at its southern border. Now the uninformed bigoted "Americans" are crying about this invasion; though they condone albeit by ignorance, the actions of their government .

  17. Someone here said that "white" Americans should boycott Mexico and seal the borders. Well, you should seal the borders but your corrupt government needs to support its corrupt Mexican government lapdog. If the southern U.S. border is sealed, those starving masses will have no choice but to stay in Mexico and start a revolution to remove the corrupt thieving rats that run their government. Bastille Day comes to mind.

    1. It would be 100 L.A. riots! That is the fear if illegal immigration would stop.

  18. @1:50 spell check who?
    how come a smart ass like youses can't properly address his stunted put downs? can you see this one comment addressed to your ass?
    --you are really one cabron pendejo estupido y baboso

  19. @7:53 the US economy will never get fixed to your liking, however it is getting "fixed" by castration, by US businessmen and politicians who CAN see the benefits of saving asia by christianization by ralph reed and by using their communist slave labor for their benefit and to help them bring down US labor and wages, the chinese communist laborers will work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day for .40 usd a week, and produce as much and as good as the best US worker who can't live on $30.00 usd an hour, and whose jobs are getting harder and harder to get...
    --the US economy will not recover...ever...
    --more to the point, try and see beyond your nose, and see a conceited and coordinated effort to facilitate illegal immigration to the US to help keep down labor expenses by the CIO wing of the AFL/CIO, US workers are now fighting for the scraps they saved for themselves when they allowed unions and union rank and file to be downgraded or eliminated, now they have no membership to carry on with the union business, for the US worker, or for anybody else...

  20. 3:38 we don't know who you answering to, but the most bigoted rants from any of the most bigoted latin americans have not killed one single american ever!
    --the greatest country in the world has supplemented its way of life by sucking the lifeblood off many other countries, for a loong time...
    --the last time the US had a chance to do great deeds for itself, was when president Kennedy formed the Alliance for Progress, (Alianza Para el Progreso), it conquered the hearts and minds of latin america, we believed we could be friends, somebody didn't think so, and from the bay of pigs fiasco, blamed on President Kennedy by the goofy devil who fucked up by getting there and his CIA partners, and his united fruit co. partners, and by their mafioso friends, and by loser presidential candidate nixxon and his cuban boyfriend bebe rebozo..etc etc etc...
    --the alliance for progress ended with the assassination of a great president hellbent on doing good for the US by making friends all over the world, murdered by those who think war makes more money for them, george hw bush at the top, with his CIA connected hands all over the place for over 60 years of personal involvement, and with his own cuban boyfriend at the side, felix ismael rodriguez, aka max, or ivan gomez, no wonder, associates of never married roy cohn and edgar hoover from the transvestited side of the fbi, all with their own boyfriends and maffia ties and bowties, giving a bad name to their side of the sidewalk, a struggle continued today by many famous republicans, lawmakers and lobbyists, all the way down to sheriff arpaio associates...


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