[ONGOING PROJECT] Guatemala, like much of Central America, has spent much of the last few generations besieged by violence. In 2009 and 2010, it registered more civilian murders than Iraq. And a civil war ripped through the country for the 36 years leading up to the 1996 Peace Accords, that did not ease old tensions. Though some of ties to the presence of Mexican cartels moving drugs, most is at the hands of local maras or gangs, who fight for control of neighborhoods, where they can extort shops, residents and run other illicit businesses.
In some of the most troubled regions, mob justice often stands in for a weak judicial system. Beatings, lynchings and burnings of crooks make the news often – alleged criminals killed for the community to watch. Some regions have more developed systems, with the accused embarrassed or extradited for the crowd to see.
And then there are Guardianes del Vecindario, the Neighborhood Guardians. With the blessing of local authorities – who often can’t keep up to the violence – local volunteers take on massive risks to patrol with a mix of crude weapons and aging guns. They keep an eye on who enters the barrio, they monitor activity, and turn over any suspected criminals to the military or police, who also run checkpoints throughout the city. With power in numbers, groups like this believe, local communities can isolate themselves from the violent statistics of the country at large. Far from a perfect solution, many such groups have been accused of killing innocents and of perpetrating violence themselves. Still, many feel safer from the masses when they have the power of justice in their hands.