The Other War
The dream of a Guatemala in peace, after suffering 36 years of armed conflict, has changed into a real nightmare. The violence of the civil war has change into ‘another war’. This small country of 14 million inhabitants has one of the highest homicide rate and became the second most dangerous country in the world, with already over 6000 homicides this year alone.
The social inequalities that provoked in the 1980s the genocide of the army against the Mayan population in itself were the cause of the birth of the “maras”. These are youngster, victims of poverty, racism, exploitation, lack of justice and decomposed families. They don’t have any hope of a better future, and they searched through the membership with the gangs a response to this insupportable situation.
At the end of the 1970s, and beginning of the 1980s, thousands of Guatemalans, migrated to the capital to escape the massacres perpetrated by the army, to install themselves in the shantytowns. Without jobs, many of them finally choose to take their changes in the United States, mainly in Los Angeles, a process that provoked an even larger disintegra- tion of families. At the same time, the IMF imposed an extremely aggressive neo-liberal policy in the entire Latin Amer- ican region, which was dominated by military regimes. This further weakened a further impoverishing of the most weakened.
After the peace accords, the US ‘deported’ thousands of illegal youngster to their country of origin. Even if they had been born in the USA. Many of them had criminal charges against them and were gang members. Back in a country ruined and destroyed by years of civil war, with institutionalized corruption, a non-existent judicial system, an extreme poverty, without work, they organized themselves again as gangs, following the image of those in LA, physically elim- inating the adversary gangs in order to control a street or area.
The phenomenon of the Maras is without doubt one of the most visible and most dramatic consequences of the armed conflict in Guatemala. The media and the government present systematically the members of the gangs as the worst expressions of delinquency and the absolute of moral decadence. They dramatize the phenomenon to convey the idea to the population that the Maras are responsible for all the problems of the country, and that a social ‘clean-up’ is nec- essary in order to ‘eradicate’ the problem. But the Maras are only the rotten fruit of a society corrupted by a culture of violence. The State does not try at any point to analyze the roots of the problem and finds itself therefore incapable to propose social solutions with the goal to eradicate the origin of the problem. Its only response is again, a political repression, provoking even more violence.
Those young “mareros” look there for another family, or solidarity, friendship, tenderness, tenderness, respect, often felt for the first time, just as much a response to that unbearable social situation, like a challenge launched at that society that denies them every possibility of integration.
These Maras have formed themselves in reaction to other forms of violence, that they underwent and practiced, daily, on family level (sexual abuse, humiliation, lack of love and attention) on a social level (violence against women, defi- cient public health, no access to education, malnutrition), economical violence (extreme poverty, endemic unemploy- ment, unfair payment) political (corruption, injustice, institutionalized discrimination), cultural (against the mayas). Since their youngest years, children are subjected to all these forms of violence, and after several years the violence becomes commonplace and becomes their only way of self-expression. They do not idealize their choice of life, but it is important for them to feel they are alive through dangerous circumstances, more than to be ‘nothing’ or ‘nobody’.