Strange Fruit

20 Oct

People are lynched in Guatemala on a regular basis. This month the national newspaper El Periodico reported that at least 40 people have been linched this year.

In September I read about a young man who was caught stealing expensive traditional dress and other household goods of value from his neighbours’ home. Soon afterwards he was stripped to his underpants by a local mob, paraded half naked around town and then hanged. His parents were also publically humiliated.

In the same week another boy aged only 17 was burnt alive after he was accused of hijacking and then murdering a taxi driver.

It isn’t a challenge to find evidence of other cases of vigilante justice in Guatemala. The national tabloid El Diario and other media outlets frequently publish graphic coverage of these violent events, such as photographs of the smoldering corpses of victims. In some shots onlookers can be seen using their own mobile phone cameras to capture a record of the occasion.

The reasons why people in small rural villages across the country choose to take the law into their own hands are not exactly clear. Perhaps it is because they perceive the police to be too corrupt or too poorly resourced to respond to incidents of theft and assault that take place away from urban centres. Or it may be that these largely indigenous communities believe that they have the right to issue punishments for crimes that have affected them.

Some commentators say that the linchings are a consequence of decades of violent civil war in Guatemala which established a culture of violence and retribution in the countryside. If this is true then the lack of censorship in media coverage of linchings does little to make these seem less normal or acceptable in society.

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One Response to “Strange Fruit”

  1. christine hodgetts October 23, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    Kristie,Is this for real ,the front page of the newspaper looks like the front page of the pix or post newspapers. Newspapers with sensational headlines,but then again I could just be ignorant,if it is true and people know the consequences why do they still do the wrong things is it because they are poor is it that they think they will not get caught is it because they are desperate or are they just stupid. Christinexx

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