Big-time drug trafficking has arrived in Central America. Its poor, politically polarised countries must now try to cope
Apr 14th 2011 | GUATEMALA CITY, SAN JOSÉ AND TEGUCIGALPA
WHEN Eduardo’s father came back to Guatemala after a spell in the United States, the tattoos up his arms gave away his roots in the mara (gang). Before long a rival gang had planted a knife in his back; when that failed to kill him they returned to finish him off in the street near his home. Eduardo (not his real name) was only eight at the time. But to avenge his father he joined his gang as a sicario (hitman), and killed his father’s murderer. Eduardo is now trying to find out whether life can offer any of the happiness he says he has never known. Since January he has been studying computing with La Ceiba, an NGO. As for that murder: “I enjoyed it,” he says blankly.
The bullet scar on Eduardo’s chest and the beaten right arm hanging limply by his side are signs of the violence that has come to engulf Guatemala and much of the Central American isthmus. No region on earth is more routinely murderous. Guatemala’s rate of 46 murders per 100,000 people is more than twice as high as Mexico’s, and nearly ten times greater than that of the United States. Honduras and El Salvador—the other two countries that make up Central America’s “northern triangle”, as it is called—are more violent still (see chart in map). Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, the quietest members of the group, have also seen violence increase in recent years, as has Belize.