Armed with rifles and pistols, villagers guatemalan soldiers patrol the slopes of Pacaya volcano, currently erupting, first, to combat criminal gangs, and this to also ensure the respect of safety instructions against the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 1 000 people dead in the country.
Motorcycle or car, groups of residents of San Vicente Pacaya, about twenty kilometers from the capital, Guatemala city, plying each day from the surrounding area to remind the mandatory wearing of the mask, and enforce the curfew declared by the authorities to slow the progression of the epidemic.
Two booths with bulletproof glass in the entrance of the village of 17,000 inhabitants held in respect of the armed bands. Today, it is also a point of medical control: the vehicles are disinfected while it takes the temperature of passers-by, who also distributes the hydroalcoholic gel.
The “patrollers”, as they call themselves, are working in good intelligence with the police, says their president, Carlos Ronquillo.
When someone violates the safety instructions, the “patrol” alert the police, who draw up the minutes, ” he says.
The inhabitants are dedicated mainly to small-scale industry for export and the cultivation of coffee and of lawyers on the flanks of the volcano in a fury, which rises to 2 552 meters.
Thanks to the action of the “patrollers”, only six people have been infected by the new coronavirus, and two of them are cured, provides proudly Carlos Ronquillo.
According to official statistics, more than 24,000 people have been affected in Guatemala by the virus, including 1 004 died.
This type of groups can sometimes take control of an area. According to Eddie Cux, a member of the organization anti-corruption civic Action, they exist in Guatemala because of the absence of the State, which does not effectively protect the communities that are threatened by the offenders.
“These groups demonstrate that the State has been unable to enforce the measures it has itself imposed. In the case of the spread of the coronavirus, (the authorities) do not know how to carry out the epidemiologic surveillance, then the population responds by protecting itself,” says Mr. Cux to the AFP.
“Not even to my worst enemy”
Clothed in the white jersey and blue football team of guatemala, Carlos Palacios, aged 55 years, is one of the people that have been contaminated.
“I was going to die, I couldn’t breathe”, he said to the AFP in ensuring that it has seen the death of at least a dozen patients in the hospital room where he had been admitted, to the south of the capital.
This disease, “I do not wish not even to my worst enemy,” proclaims Carlos Palacios, who was able to get out of the hospital after 19 days of fighting against the virus. In a good catholic, he attributes his healing to the visit of a priest who gave him communion.
The “patrollers” were formed two years ago to combat the criminal gangs Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, who terrorize the country, ” said Carlos Ronquillo, aboard an all-terrain vehicle, a baseball cap military screwed on the head and face covered by a mask.
“Before we organize, bandits, imposed a curfew, in fact: one could not go out from 5 o’clock in the afternoon (time of sunset in Guatemala – ED), under penalty of being attacked”, he remembers. “We hunted, there were among them consumers and dealers of drugs, mostly marijuana.”
The racketeering, or the death
“I was a victim of the racket of the bandits, they threatened to kill my family”, told AFP Jorge Mejicanos, who has joined the “patrol” to make rounds at night.
Before the establishment of the militia, five people were killed by the bandits because they refused to pay their tithing or that they are opposed to car thefts, ” he says.
The “patrol” also perform a social function in supplying water to the inhabitants, by distributing food aid to the most vulnerable, or by carpool.
“Really, the +patrol”, it is a good thing: they have put an end to the violence, and now it is more quiet, summarizes Erwin Cruz, one of the farmers who participated in the round.