Theater of Cruelty

Bulletproof leather vest for sale

A while ago, a man was executed in front of the front door of my apartment. It turned into a small note in the newspaper, cleverly placed along with sales ads for pocket firearms and bulletproof windows for the car.


Panic room – save family life! I pull out the weekend voucher from one of Guatemala's biggest newspapers and look at the detailed description of how to build a shelter in their own house. In the pages that follow, I browse through ads for bulletproof school bags for kids, bulletproof caps – pink or blue – and a bulletproof leather vest that fits the cowboy boots. I put it away and wonder when the A magazine will have bulletproof as the main spread. I have to go to Central America to remember that it is a luxury to go to work without worrying about armed robbery.

The strange thing, though, is how easily I get used to it. When I go out, I automatically put the money in my shoe, along with a phone number I can call if I am robbed. Some money for the thief in his trouser pocket. I put my camera – which costs more than a year's salary here – in a plastic bag so it looks like vegetables bought on the market. No jewelry, no watch. Eyes in the neck. I have been robbed three times. Once with weapons against the temple.

Sick and healthy communities. In some countries, the security situation in Central America is worse than during the armed conflicts that raged here in the 1980s and 90s. At the top of the world's violence statistics are Honduras and El Salvador. Every year they outnumber themselves in the number of killings. 42 of the world's 50 most dangerous cities are located in Latin America. Guatemala has around 5000 kills a year – not far from the nearly 7000 civilians killed in the Iraq war in 2016, and in a population that is half that size. Violence has become an epidemic that is gnawing on economic development, people's health and the relationship between people.

It is said that one healthy society has an annual murder rate of between zero and five murders per 100 inhabitants. When the number passes eight, we are talking about crime as an epidemic. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are now in the numbers between 000 and 30. The UN has described the triangle as the most dangerous place in the world, and the International Crisis Group has called Guatemala a paradise for criminals. 98 percent of all crime is never solved. There are studies that try to calculate what financial losses the violence causes: medical expenses, police, security guards, justice system, refugee foreign investments, material losses and lost jobs. But what it does to the people living here is harder to measure.

Crime of the extent we are talking about in Latin America is first and foremost a symptom of a diseased society.

Blame the boys. Not a day goes by without a murder smeared across the newspaper front pages. In the reader posts, the hatred of the gangs erupts, the people shout for harsher punishments. Argentine writer Eduardo Galeano has written that reading about killed criminals in the newspaper has had a pharmaceutical effect on the people of Latin America: Pharmacy is a Greek word for the people who were sacrificed to the gods in times of crisis. People are violent, and the young criminal boys are blamed for everything that has gone wrong.

scene of violence in Guatemala: A man is shot outside McDonald's in Guatemala City. Police count and mark 75 gunshot wounds. It turns into a tiny note in the newspaper. When I go to work the next day, my body bag is still on the ground. Photo: Anne Håskoll-Haugen

A couple of years ago I made a report on the violence in Guatemala and El Salvador, and visited boys at youth institutions. as committed for heinous crimes. One of them had stopped counting how many he had killed. He was only 16 years old. They were all young gang members, but not the muscular tattooed men you see in the Hollywood movies and the tough reports. They were staggeringly squishy teenagers who wriggled in the chair, cupped their hands and had a hard time catching their eye. It looked lost. How on earth had they ended up here?

To control with iron hand. In a society with epidemic crime, security is high on the wish list. While Norwegian politicians who will be elected must talk about the welfare state and jobs Safety the keyword that draws the most voters here. The politicians' strategy has long been hard hand (hard hand) – the idea that violence must be met with violence, more police and more severe punishments. The authorities 'iron hand policy satisfies voters' need to feel that the situation is being handled, but there is little indication that it works. Dealing with crime with more severe punishments is based on the fact that the cause of crime is a lack of fear of reprisals, the lack of police, lack of capacity in prisons and slow case processing. Crime is considered an individual act, a problem of order.

But crime of the scale we are talking about in Latin America is primarily a symptom of a diseased society. Still – it is easier to impose stricter penalties and employ more police officers than to deal with poverty, unemployment, lack of schooling and a poor functioning state apparatus. Criminal gangs, drugs and gunfire are blamed, but there are many scapegoats in this war. Studies of the gangs in Latin America show that the mano dura, which led to massive incarceration, allowed the criminals to organize in a way they had never had before. In the prisons there was a massive recruitment of young men who already hated the authorities and had little to lose. The prisons also have no capacity, and are filled to the brim with people suspected of crimes, but without judicial judgment. A double punishment for their poverty – although, of course, poverty can never excuse a murder.

The paralyzing fear. Perhaps worse than the violence itself is the fear of violence. Fear paralyzes. Parents call their children all the time; where are you, what are you doing, who are you with? No one plays in the streets, everyone is driven everywhere. While Norwegians chat about the weather, there is violence here. In Mexico, even one of the causes of obesity has been linked to violence – parents prefer to keep their children at home in front of the TV, which is where it is safest. Mexico has become the fattest country in the world. The rich hide their lives behind high walls, it is difficult to know whether it is the poor or the rich who are free or trapped. This is the only place I see Facebook updates about friends who have been robbed on their way to work, markings for friends who have been shot and friends who have "disappeared". It is only here that I consider not joining the beach because it is not safe. Only here I have to make sure never to travel in the dark, only here I have to step on a body bag on the way to work. When I lived here a few years ago, a man was executed in front of the front door of my apartment. The next day he was still lying on the asphalt. It turned into a small notice in the newspaper, and above: a cleverly placed advertisement with a pink 38-caliber firearm, "the pink lady", and below: an advertisement for bulletproof window glass for the car. When the state cannot offer citizens security, the private market grows. Sales of bulletproof cars, pistols and iron gates are a lucrative industry.

Still, I feel like something is different now. The capital has got its first pedestrian street where there is a crowd of families on a stroll. A new bus that is safer than the old ones goes all the way through the city. I talk to a friend who has grown up in the dreaded Zone 18 – where the country's most notorious criminal gang originated. "It's no longer just going out and getting shot," he says. "If you get shot now, it's because you've messed up a bunch. Now the criminals are sitting on the internet and doing blackmail from there instead, ”he says, looking over his shoulder as we walk through the empty streets of the capital. It empties quickly when the sun has set. Maybe that's right. When I came here 15 years ago, my local buddy slept with bats without the pillow. When we were shopping, I carried the bags and he the jump knife. I call him now and he says he no longer walks with a knife. In 2015, Guatemalan authorities reported five fewer murders a week from the previous year. The same year, the people cast the president after a huge corruption scandal, and chose a comedian from a poor family instead, one who has even said that inequality should also be blamed for all the violence. It's something, after all. But I put the money in the shoe and the camera in the plastic bag – for safety's sake.

Anne Håskoll mound
Anne Håskoll-haugen
Håskoll-Haugen is a freelance journalist,

You may also like