Crime wars rock Guatemala

Eight people were killed in a four-hour gun battle between police and thieves in the Villa Hermosa suburb of Guatemala City. An armed gang had robbed a jeweller in a shopping center, killing a security guard. Hundreds of Special Forces troops from the National Civil Police, backed up by some 70 army troops, later surrounded them in a private house, where they refused to surrender. One local radio station, broadcasting from the scene, carried recordings of a man shouting: “The only way we’ll come out is dead.” One officer was killed in the shoot-out, and six bodies were found in the house—along with assault weapons and hand grenades. Four police and a soldier were wounded. “The exchange of gunfire was very intense, but everything is now under control,” Interior Minister Adela Camacho said. (BBC, Xinhua, Prensa Libre, Guatemala, Dec. 16)

Marc Rognon, a 17-year-old Swiss visitor, was killed by a gang in Guatemala last month. Rognon’s family offered to pay a ransom. But before a payment could be made his body was found near that of another dead man near the side of a road. Swiss police are requesting permission travel to Guatemala as “observers” of the investigation. (24 Heures, Switzerland, Dec. 14)

Members of the Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs are giving up tattoos, baggy pants and tank tops for smart blazers and a preppy look, to evade a harsh crackdown by security forces and citizen vigilante groups. (AP, Dec. 15)

See our last posts on Guatemala and Central America.