Guatemala is one of the world’s poorest countries — and one of the most violent. Ultra-violent gangs, known as “maras,” terrorize overcrowded low-income settlements through drug trafficking, prostitution, and racketeering.
The police in Guatemala seem powerless to rein in these mafia-like youth gangs — so many people have turned to illegal militia groups for protection. Pedro is a senior member of the “Barrio 18” gang. He lives in a favela called Villanueva. Some say it’s a minor miracle that he’s reached the age of 32. The average age of Mara members is 25. The police don’t have the personnel or the funding to crack down on these gangs; sometimes they have to buy their own ammunition. Many local residents feel as though the authorities have abandoned them, so they’ve taken matters into their own hands. Some have joined self-protection groups to take on the Maras.
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