Mob justice on the rise in 'criminals' paradise'

An angry mob snatches two accused child molesters in a Guatemalan highland village, ties them to a lamp post in the central plaza, douses them with gasoline and threatens to burn them alive.

After hours of tense negotiations, authorities convince furious villagers in San Cristobal Tonicapan to hand the men over to police.

The attack last week was among the latest in Guatemala’s long history of mob violence, but officials and human rights groups say there has been an upsurge this year amid growing frustration with an inept justice system that fails to catch and charge criminals.

“It’s intolerable that in 95% of criminal cases in Guatemala, no one is charged,” said the country’s human rights ombudsman, Sergio Morales. “It’s a criminals’ paradise. Every day the people get more desperate ...
Impunity is the reason there are so many lynchings.”

More than a dozen people were lynched in the first five months of this year. Witnesses to the vigilante justice are often scared to speak out, so instigators are rarely identified or held accountable. Local police typically flee the scene, fearing they will be attacked themselves.

Also last week, a man named Edin Rolando Hun fled a town in the central department of Alta Verapaz after being accused of killing a man in a fight. Enraged residents descended on the home of Hun’s two sisters, burning it to the ground and beating his relatives nearly to death with sticks and rocks.

In another incident in April, an angry horde in the town of Sumpango near the capital beat two suspected child kidnappers with broom handles and iron rods, dragged their bodies through cobblestone streets and ultimately set them on fire.

It was all captured on film by a local TV cameraman who was so close blood splattered his lens.

In some Mayan communities there is a deep fear of children being stolen to be sold abroad, so visiting strangers risk being identified as kidnappers and assaulted.

In 2000, a Japanese tourist and a Guatemalan bus driver were murdered at a rural Indian market when about 500 locals assumed the foreign tour bus had arrived to snatch babies.

Analysts say the mob justice is part of a culture of violence dating back to Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, which left more than 200 000 dead before United Nations-backed peace accords were signed in 1996.

Government forces launched “scorched earth” campaigns in the 1980s, carrying out massacres in villages suspected of helping left-wing rebels. In some, the slaughter was carried out in public to teach a lesson to those watching.

“The places where there are the most lynchings today coincide with the places where there was most repression during the armed conflict,” said Mario Polanco, who heads a group set up by family members of war victims.

“The war generated so much violence that the society disintegrated,” he said. “Most of the problems we are living with today stem from that violence.”—Reuters

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