Friday, January 16, 2009

Gat Totin' Pistol Holdin'

Guns are ubiquitous as fuck in Central America. It seems like the further south you go, the more people are strapped, and the more impressive (intimidating) are their firearms. One immediately notices the army and federal police/storm troopers that patrol town and country in Mexico, m16s, ar-whatevers etc in plain view. But it gets better, and crazier than that. One morning in San Cristobal de Las Casas I was posted up outside a coffee shop, probably waiting on some german hippie to get off the computer at the nearby internet cafe when I witnessed what looked to me like a reverse bank robbery. The coffee shop, Yik CafĂ©, was next to a Banca Azteca and it was time to make a deposit of some sort. An armored truck pulled up and two dudes jumped out the back with machine guns and immediately took up what looked like a shooting position, sweeping the crowded zocalo with their guns, the way guys in bank robbery flicks “cover” their hostages. Another guy with a shotgun (pistol grip pump, ill) leapt out and ran around to the corner of the bank to cover it from that angle. All dramatic and shit. They were yelling things to each other that I didn’t quite make out but like to think they were saying shit like “blue team go! blue team go!” in spanish. They probably were. Then the best part, this little guy comes fucking flying out the back of the truck with a revolver in one hand, pointed up in the air, and a canvas money bag in the other. He ran like hell into the bank, ducking between cars and shit. The other dudes yelling the whole time. If I had seen the same thing in the US I would have thought some serious shit was going down, but in MX it is business as usual. The other guys ran over and flanked the doors of the bank as our man went in to drop off whatever it was he was dropping off. When he came out they did the same thing again. It was awesome.

Around San Cristobal de las Casas, a city in Chiapas, southern Mexico, there were lots of armed guards guarding all kinds of things. Mostly young men and sometimes women, generally super nice people just doing what they got to do to feed themselves and their families. Even if that includes putting a few hot ones in your hind parts if you try to fuck around. As I went south into Guatemala I saw more and more of this. The guards got younger, the guns got bigger. It seems that the general rule of thumb in Central America is that if you have something, and you don’t want some fool to take it from you, you walk around strapped. Makes sense. Guatemala, still healing from massive unspoken-of wounds from a vicious genocidal 36 year civil war, is no stranger to guns and killing. There are still bullet holes in all kinds of shit and as you drive down the Pan American Highway you see abandoned army pill boxes everywhere. One of the first things I noticed was how many people had heinous and bizarre scars in strange places on their bodies. If you ever want to lose your appetite and not sleep for a week, I have a copy of the human rights report from the war, you can borrow it (if you are interested in the Guatemalan conflict I can recommend lots of excellent books). And those kids pack serious shit down there. As I said earlier, in Guatemala the guards are younger and the guns are bigger. There is a McDonalds on the zocalo in Quetzaltenango, and a pimply faced teenager with an AK standing by the door. There is an (awesome) fried chicken chain in Guatemala called Pollo Campero, and each location I visited had at least one, sometimes two, armed guards. These kids will open the door for you, and I presume, empty a banana clip into you if you fuck around. Whereas we have stop signs with a few 9 mm holes in them and shit like that around town in Atlanta, there it is common place to see street signs that have been sprayed with machine gun fire. Instead of 2 or 3 big-ish holes there will be 20 small ones.

There is another trend in gat totin’ as you head south: while in Mexico and (touristy) parts of Guatemala the folks you see with automatic assault rifles are generally wearing uniforms, that tends to wane a bit as you head south or at least into less touristed areas. You start seeing people who are obviously doing security work but wearing jeans and a t-shirt and then there are people who don’t appear to be doing any official security at all but nevertheless have a chrome pistol grip 12 gauge (an ever popular choice) on their shoulder and a bullet belt on their back. Walking down the street in Honduras I passed a kid a bit younger than me with his hat turned to the side and a pistol tucked into his pants. Not at all on some gangster shit either, on some walking to the store shit. We greeted each other and it was all good. Maybe he was going to work or something.

Far and away the wildest gun-related shit I saw was a coca-cola truck in Guatemala City. First let me say that Guatemala city is statistically the most dangerous city in Central America and that says a whole fucking lot. It is far and away the illest (ill meaning bad) place I have ever seen, loud noisy and filthy as fuck. Guatemala city has the highest per capita incidence of private aircraft owner ship in the world (think about that for a second) and is at the same time one of the most impoverished and violent cities on the earth. I think something like 19 families own 99% of the wealth in this cardboard and blue tarp city of five million. Anyway, while passing through the city (getting from one side to the other took about an hour and a half) I saw plenty of ill shit, lots of people packin’, but one guy took the cake. At an intersection in the middle of the city I spied a flatbed truck full of crates of Coca Cola, whatever, a typical sight. But when it passed I could see that there was a dude sitting on the back of the truck bed, jeans and a t-shirt, with a machine gun. My man did not want his coca cola bottles to be fucked with, fair enough. But better than that? They were empty. Empty bottles are still worth money down there, so it’s not as though it wasn’t valuable cargo. Maybe next time I will get a picture.


30cent said...

Despite the popularity of fully automatic weapons in the region, I felt safer there than I do in my own neighborhood. In my two months of travel I had fewer altercations (none) or trouble than I have in any given two month period at home. This is for lots of reasons of course, but I still think it’s worth mentioning.

the xarlacc said...

for real, very worth mentioning. well damn!