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The Dark Powers That Feed Guatemala's Violence

Gray skies in Guatemala City
Gray skies in Guatemala City
Zaira Lainez

-OpEd-

GUATEMALA CITY – In Guatemala, we know about the damage done by gangs and drug traffickers. We see them paraded across the national and international media as the embodiement of "evil," with their steely glares and tattooed arms.

But too often, simply blaming the gangs and drug trade ignores the complex set of elements that feed the cycle of violence that has driven too much of Guatemala’s history. It’s not just about who the media showcases as “evil”:

Of course, gangs and drug trafficking are responsible for horrific events that lead to the dehumanization of society. But that should be measured against the dehumanization of an employer who barely pays minimum wage and exploits his workers; or the landowner, who with the help of the authorities, forcibly evicts dozens of families; or even of those who sell the land where indigenous people had lived for generations to foreigners who came to suck the blood out of the soil, leaving it devastated.

Gray areas, long histories

Here in Guatemala there are many white collar workers who will eliminate anyone who gets in the way of their interests. They won’t dirty their own hands; they need someone else to do the dirty work, someone else to blame.

In the same way as in the 1990s when the legendary chupacabras (goat suckers) served to explain the mysterious deaths of livestock, the audience cheered on the show for entertainment value while the media minimized the human toll of the violence among drug traffickers and gangs. Every day we see the results of violence in the high death counts, without looking for any explanation or logic behind it. This is not just today's news, this violence has been going on for hundreds of years.

We can see the formula the media prefers in the first statements that came from the Interior Minister, after the Sept. 7 killings of members of the indigenous Kaqchikel community, which was attributed to gangs.

It’s a gray area; here and in other places where Guatemalans are defending their lives and land against officials and businesses who want to set up their own projects and drain everything -- in the name of productivity, competitiveness and entrepreneurship. Regardless, the blood that must flow has already been calculated into all the environmental impact assessments.

The big businesses don't always get to where they are on their enterprising spirit alone. They also rely on violence, whether direct or indirect, but yes; you’ll never see the business magazines or people of the year with dirty hands. There are others who will do the job for them.

I have no doubt that there are those who benefit from violence. More than gangs and drug traffickers, those who profit the most wear suits and ties. These are the so-called dark powers, which someday we may hopefully bring into the light.

This column was first published in plazapublica.org

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