La Vida No Vale Nada - PhMuseum

La Vida No Vale Nada

Lianne Milton

LA VIDA NO VALE NADA

This project explores the impact on how families and communities live with daily violence, and post-civil war violence in Guatemala.

There's a common phrase Guatemalans say about violence in their country: En Guatemala, la vida no vale nada.

In Guatemala, life is worth nothing.

I began this project last November when I returned to cover the Presidential elections. Violence was at an all-time high and Guatemalans were ready for change.

Fifteen years after the end of its bloody and genocidal civil war, Guatemala elected its first peacetime military leader; a former army general who emerged from retirement shrouded with human rights abuses.

Guatemala is the only country in the western hemisphere that experienced genocide in the 20th century. During the country’s 36-year civil war, (1960-1996), about 200,000 people were killed and another 50,000 “disappeared” and buried in mass graves throughout the country. It left a brutal legacy of violence on the social fabric of this highly indigenous country.

As Guatemalans continue to recover from decades of political violence, the growth of cartel, gang and street violence increase. Mexican drug cartels are new players in a complex mix of paramilitary and vigilante groups in the shadowlands between state and organized crime in Guatemala. While today there is no official war, Guatemalans live with 98% impunity, and a homicide rate of 40 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, some critics say Guatemala is on the verge of becoming a failed state.

I often hear how there is no value for life anymore. Guatemalans believe that you can do whatever you want because those crimes go into a little black police book and nothing is done about it. Rarely is there an investigation. One can hire an assassin for as little as $20 USD. Shootings are often, and sometimes hidden by spurts of firecrackers. Businesses close at dark, and streets lay empty of life giving freedom to drug dealers, thieves and anyone with a gun with the intent to rob or kill.

I’ve met many Guatemalans, from taxi drivers to business owners who expressed a desperate hope for change in their country. They were exhausted by the daily violence, and blamed the former president for his passivity. Hotel owner Lorena Artola, said to me recently, “We live in constant fear, drive shitty cars with tinted windows, and get killed for the most simplest things, like a cell phone. We can’t buy anything nice because we become a target.

In January 2012, former military dictator from 1982-83, during the worst of wartime violence, Rios Montt, was ordered to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, a symbolic victory for victims of the war. With the help of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-Guatemala initiative that pursues high profile criminal cases and provides new investigative tools, there was progress in the advancement of human rights in Guatemala for the first time since the 1996 Peace Accords.

For years I have heard about the violence in Guatemala ripping apart families, much like the civil war did. I was compelled to work on this project because so much media attention has been focused on Mexico. How were countries in Central America, like Guatemala, affected by Mexico’s balloon effect from fighting drug cartels? There is no one answer. For Guatemala, violence stems from the complexities of civil war and on-going drug trafficking, coupled with a corrupt government and weak social infrastructure. Guatemala is a country rich in indigenous culture, steeped in tradition and nourished by a beautiful resiliency. This project explores the impact on how families and communities live with daily violence, and post-civil war violence in Guatemala.

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  • Paramedics carry a shooting victim onto a gurney at Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City, on Saturday, May 5, 2012. The victim, a truck driver, who police nicknamed "dos equis", or XX (without name) because he carried no identification, was shot down by police when he did not stop at a checkpoint.

  • Paramedics push a blood-soaked gurney from a shooting victim at Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City, on Saturday, May 5, 2012. The police named the victim, who was a truck driver, "dos equis", or dbl XX (meaning, without name) because he carried no identification. The police sprayed his truck and shot the driver when he did not stop at a checkpoint.

  • A public bus driver checks his watch as he waits for a Catholic procession at an intersection Zone 1, Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Saturday, April 14, 2012. From 2008 to 2011 the public red buses were targeted by extortion gangs when they would drive through gang-controlled neighborhoods. Hundreds of people died in the bus war, passengers and drivers, from shootings and explosions.

    As Guatemalans continue to recover from decades of political violence, the growth of drug cartel and gang violence increases. With 98% impunity and a murder rate of 40 per 100,000 people, some critics say Guatemala is on the verge of becoming a failed state.

  • The colony of La Verbena merges with the cemetery, in Zone 7, Guatemala City, on Thursday, April 12, 2012.

  • A young couple is found kissing late at night in Zone 1, Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011.

  • Funeral directors and family members carry the caskets containing the bodies of victims killed by drug cartels, at an Air Force base in Guatemala City, Wednesday, March 21, 2012. The remains of 11 Guatemalan citizens were repatriated from Mexico on Wednesday. 193 bodies found in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, in 26 mass graves in April 2011. Mexican authorities believe the dead were mostly migrants kidnapped from buses and killed by the Zetas drug cartel.

  • Family members react to the death a 31-year-old man who was shot point blank in his car parked in the La Verbena colony, in Zone 7, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. Police say there was a dispute between two mechanics to eliminate the competition. Violence in Guatemala City is commonly a result of drugs, extortion or territory of gangs. Families often don't tell the police the true story because they fear retribution.

  • Two teenage boys were shot and killed, in Villa Nueva, just outside Guatemala City, on Friday, March 23, 2012. Guatemala faces a 98% impunity according to the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. On average, Guatemala suffers over 5000 murders a year, surpassing the death count of 200,000 victims from the 30-year civil war.

  • A 17-year-old young woman was shot and killed by a friend's abusive husband after she advised her to leave him, in a gang-controlled neighborhood in Villa Nueva, just outside Guatemala City, on Friday, March 23, 2012. Guatemala faces a 98% impunity according to the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. According to the National Civil Police, 695 women were killed in 2010 and 631 in 2011. The 36-years of civil war left a brutal legacy of violence against women on the social fabric of this indigenous country. While today there is no official war, Guatemalan women live in a culture of violence that includes gangs, drug trafficking, machismo and domestic abuse.

  • Guatemalan police and military investigate a scene where three drug dealers were shot and killed, in Zone 10, in Mixco, Guatemala, on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011. Mixco is a transit point for drug traffickers, including the ruthless Los Zetas Mexican drug cartel. In the past three years, Guatemala has seen a rise in Mexico drug gangs because of the major anti-drug operations launched by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and because of its porous borders, drug gangs can easily transit drugs from Colombia through Mexico.

  • A young woman walks between tombstones at a cemetery where Guatemalans celebrate Dia de los Muertos by flying colorful kites to scare off bad spirits so that the dead can enjoy offerings by the families, in Santiago Sacatepequez, Guatemala, on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. Guatemala is the only country in the western hemisphere that experienced genocide in the 20th century. During the country’s 36-year civil war (1960-1996), about 200,000 people were killed, and another 50,000 “disappeared” and buried in mass graves throughout the country.

  • Gang-controlled La Limonada in Zone 5 is home to the largest slum in Latin America (outside of Brazil) with over 60,000 residents, Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.

  • A Guatemalan policeman walks away from a body of a teen boy who was shot and killed in a neighborhood of Villa Nueva, Guatemala, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. Guatemala faces a 98% impunity according to the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. Although the homicide rate dropped from 6000 in 2010 to 5618, it is still twice as high then Mexico.

  • A woman looks out the window at passerbys in Guatemala City, on Saturday, April 14, 2012. 695 women were killed in Guatemala in 2010, compared to 213 in 2000, and often by people they know. The 36-years of civil war left a brutal legacy of violence against women on the social fabric of this indigenous country. While today there is no official war, Guatemalan women live in a culture of violence that includes gangs, drug trafficking, machismo and domestic abuse.

  • Gloria Cruz, center, and family members mourn the death of her son, 24-year-old Eder Cruz, who was killed by a drug cartel because his family couldn't pay the ransom, at Cementerio General, in Guatemala City, Thursday, March 22, 2012. The remains of 11 Guatemalan citizens were repatriated from Mexico on Wednesday. 193 bodies were found in the Tamaulipas state of northern Mexico in 26 mass graves in April 2011. Mexican authorities believe the dead were mostly migrants kidnapped from buses and killed by the Zetas drug cartel after trying to extort money from their families in Guatemala.


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