This is the title of an excellently researched and clearly written report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in May of 2007. The report analyzes criminal activity in Central America, how it grows, what nourishes it and why it is so difficult to control.
The footnotes alone are worth the read- especially for anyone who has commercial interests in the region.
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More recent are reports by the UN and AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (www.amnesty.org) about continuing human rights crimes against women and indigenous populations.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say I like Guatemala City and enjoy its many cultural institutions as well as exploring the different "zonas". It's a friendly town with a lot of helpful people.
Drop by the modern Municipal Building (in the Civic Center) and you'll find order, promptness, courtesy, efficiency- the city is run by Alvaro Arzu- he's a first rate administrator. He used to be president (96-00)- got a bad rap from the human rights people- and is blamed for selling off state assets under a policy called neo-liberalism.
The "structural" problem with security in Guatemala City is that it does not have its own municipal police force.
In Guatemala the police are nationalized as the PNC. Not so long ago, in the opinion of nearly all Guatemalans, they were regarded as mismanaged, lazy and destructive of equipment. There were piles of police vehicles made useless for lack of basic maintenance.
No one less than President Colom announced publicly late in 2008 that they were useless.
On my last visit (March 2013) it was evident that PNC units in the city are active and visible. The new president of Guatemala (formerly a general) used the army in the city when he assumed office a year ago. The army is gone now. The downtown area of the city reminds me a lot of how changed New York City is now from many years ago when TImes Square was a sewer of pornography and tourists were told to avoid the subways. Today, the city looks better. It feels safer. It feels more like home.
This is an alternative to the US advisory I have on my Guatemala Page. Information is updated regularly and it is effective at instilling a sober sense of caution and preparedness.
I use a risk/reward model. Is the benefit worth the risk. Is it worth ducking down an alley at night to save time.
If the police are not available, call the Guatemalan office of Assistance to Tourists ASISTUR. Even if the police are available, call them anyway
24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
ASISTUR has three phone numbers: 1500, 2421-2810, and 5578-9836.
Always contact your embassy if there is any trouble. In the old days if you were a US citizen this was a joke - but things have changed a lot at the US embassy which is definitely under new management.
GUATEMALA'S VIOLENT DEATH RATE DECLINES SIXTH YEAR IN A ROW.
The government says lowest in SIX years but my figures say two, Still it is welcome news.
Guatemala ranks 15 worldwide for death by firearms.
25% of all murder victims are other criminals. For tourists, robbery is the foremost concern.
In 2012 5174 Guatemalas died from violence or 14 per day. 28 of every 34 deaths (82%) were caused by firearms. Highest rates of death by violence were the northern and eastern sections of the country. A NEW STATISTIC: 444 GUATEMALANS WERE KILLED BY STRAY BULLETS
In 2011 5618 Guatemalans died from violence or 15 per day. 82% of these (4600) died by gunfire. Guatemala City with 1/4 of the population had 60% of all violent deaths.
In 2010: 6502 deaths by violence were recorded or 18 per day.
In 2009 The Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses (Inacif) reported a daily rate of 17 for a total of 6,292
For 2008 The Human Rights Prosecutor's Office reported 18 murders daily. .
Guatemala 's murder rate in 2007 was 44:100,000 or 16 murders daily- this represented a 65% increase over the previous five years -2006 to 2001- and was 10 times the US murder rate.
Guatemala's neighbor EL SALVADOR has a murder rate of 60:100,000
Guatemala's neighbor HONDURAS has an even higher rate of 82:100,000
Guatemala's neighbor MEXICO has the lowest rate at 20:100,000- roughly half that of Guatemala.
Demonstrations vary in size and composition. Spontaneous demonstrations should be avoided.
Altogether different are the organized demonstrations with shouted slogans, banners and loud speakers. (See photos added to this tip) Many are held at the Congress Building (9th Avenida) near the National Palace or downtown near the Bank of Guatemala/Municipal Complex. The mood is generally light. Defiance is generally expressed by masked spray painters who are ignored by the police. (It's easier just to repaint the walls a day later).
This photo (see web address below for write up) shows a demonstration (Feb 10 2005) opposed to CAFTA and GM crops because Guatemalan farmers cannot compete against US subsidized corn and beans- genetically modified or not.
The man on the left is labor leader and human rights activist Nery Barrios- director of UASP and the speaker to his right is a member of Congress- well known in Guatemala but I don't remember her name.
What a change a new administration makes. The US EMBASSY PAGE for Guatemala is well designed and easy to navigate. Someone has done some deep down cleaning- it shows and you should take a look. Links galore for emergencies, non-emergencies, citizen services, medical, travel warnings, sending money, residency transportation and more.
HUMAN BOTFLY (Beef Worm)
Bot Flies are picked up in rural areas characterized by grassland, pasture, and cattle. The normal host for a bot fly is a cow. Humans are a delicacy.
Botfly eggs are commonly transported and deposited while you are asleep by mosquitoes, spiders etc. The Larvae (or "warbles" in English) painlessly burrow through broken skin- such as a mosquito bite. The Larvae secure themselves with two "tail" hooks as well by the rough ridges encircling the body (see photo)
The first symptom is intense itching. You'll feel something solid under the skin and soon see a bump with a tiny hole on the skin- this is the punctum through which the larva breathes and discharges waste. Its contractions cause the third symptom- episodes of VERY EXTREME PAIN lasting ten minutes several times a day. Hot compresses and massaging will not help. If you do nothing, in two months the bump will grow much bigger, the larva will emerge, drop off and begin its pupa state of development.
WHAT TO DO
Consult a doctor.
The punctum is the botfly's weak point. Without air, it will die. You can kill it by blocking the hole with epoxy or glue. Tape does not work. Some suggest Vaseline. Wait 12 hours. It can then be removed by manipulation of the muscle.
A comment has been left on my Guatemala Page describing how hydrogen peroxide can be squirted from a syringe into the breathing hole. The author says that the larva will quickly eject itself.
VERY IMPORTANT: NEVER TRY TO FORCE THE LARVA OUT WHILE IT IS ALIVE- NEVER DO THIS!
(Search "worm in stomach" on YouTube to see how NOT to remove this parasite)
Heat may force the larva to stick out its head- but trying to grab it with tweezers with the idea of pulling it out will fail.
The Larva must be dead for safe removal.
After removal, store it in a glass vial with some alcohol to impress and gross out your friends.
Guatemala ranks second globally for death either by malnutrition or alcohol, fourth globally for death by violence and sixth globally for death by drugs. Don't be afraid but don't be foolhardy. If every male in sight sports a tattoo you are probably in the wrong place. However, on the truly amazing side, Guatemala ranks 175th for death by auto.
LISTED IN ORDER OF DEATH FOR GUATEMALA
2): Heart attack
3) Violence- (Guatemala ranks FOURTH globally)
6) Liver Disease - Guatemala ranks ELEVENTH globally
8) Malnutrition - Guatemala ranks SECOND globally
9) Injuries (auto and falls not included)
10) Kidney failure
14) Breast CANCER (Guatemala ranks 74 globally)
15) Peptic Ulcer Disease (Guatemala ranks FOURTH globally)
16) Lung Disease
17) Alcohol -Guatemala ranks SECOND globally
18) Maternal complications
19) Prostate Cancer (63rd globally)
20) Birth Trauma
21) Low Birth Weight
22) Drug Use (Guatemala ranks SIXTH globally)
23) CANCER Guatemala ranks 64th globally
Amazing to anyone who has driven in Guatemala but for DEATH BY AUTO ACCIDENT Guatemala ranks 175th GLOABALLY!!
Finally, half the population is under 17.
Widespread and Repeated Warnings about going to the overlook to enjoy the panorama of Antigua Guatemala and the majestic spectacle of Volcan Agua should not be ignored.
BUT DO GO.
But go during the day and better if you have company. You can also use the Tourist Office facing the Central Jardin Plaza to be escorted (their schedule not yours)
Make sure you are not being followed.
If you are still uncertain about going.... plan your vist in the morning--- Sunday morning is extra safe.
There are sporadic reports (it's hard to say if the same event isn't the source for multiple reports) of customers drawing out money and being followed.
In one case, (obviously well organized) motorbikes or scooters were used to force a car to pull over.
In another case, three cars were used. One to identify the victim leaving his home and getting into his car, another to block the victim's car and a third to pull the victim out and into the escape car. Obviously, no figures are available regarding kidnapping and ransom-
People on business in Guatemala will find that danger doesn't match many other places in the world but it's definitely not risk free. Guatemala does not have a trained police force and the courts take years - if ever- to settle cases. Hiring private security is the only option.
Guatemala has a police force (PNC) of 20,000.
Private security guards number over 40,000. (nationally private guards number several hundred thousand- much larger than the poorly trained (other than some elite forces) soldiers of the government.
The PNC are notoriously ineffective. Even President Colom in December of 2008 publicly criticized them as useless.
My wife and I visited several cities and sites during September-October 2010. All along my wife tried to mail some postcards to USA, Mexico and Europe. However, and even though we located the post offices at every place we visited, none of them had stamps to sell. Needless to say our tour guide was somewhat embarrased by this.
Finally, at Antigua Guatemala, we apparently found a post office that could take our postcards, but once again, no stamps. What they did was to rubber-stamp our cards, apparently with the correct postage. We mailed about 15 cards at that office in Antigua. However, only two of them ever arrived at their destination.
We strongly suspect that the post office personnel, simply rubber stamp the cards, take your money (about 6 Q per card) and them throw them away. Since no record exists that money was taken, and no stamp were sold, it becomes an easy way to make money from the tourists.
We have traveled extensively in several latin american countries, and this is the first time we encountered such experience. Guatemala is a beautiful place, but be careful, take your post cards home and mail them safely from your own country.
Just wanted to warn about local dentists in Guatemala. If you think that you will be saving money, doing dental work in a developing country - think twice!
We recently went to Guatemala, and in Antigua's local guide found an ad for an English speaking and U.S. educated dentist Dr. Jorge De La Cruz. Went there for an examination, he said that he found a problem here and a decay there, said that it's necessary to do a root canal and a crown. Prices were acceptable by the U.S. standards, however when we started hesitating, the Dr. immediately changed his "diagnosis" (seeing probably that he could lose a patient and the money...) and started offering just a crown, without root canal, since he said "You can do it too, just later might have to go around the crown, if the root is damaged"... So much for trying to get patient's money...
Anyway, again the prices were really good, we decided to do both (root canal+crown). While the Dr. was working, he was trying to talk me into drilling other, still normal looking teeth, claiming some possible decay. Ok, we "survived" that, refused. Then the trouble started - turned out that he worked in Antigua just 1 day a week (sometimes two), and his main office was in Guatemala City (add money on a shuttle bus and about an hour of time spent travelling one way). So, had to go there several times, to take impressions and the to put the crown on. The crown however did not fit well, and so he had to send it to the local lab to adjust, which took more time... We were so fed up with that travelling from one town to another and dealing with the Dr. De La Cruz, unbelievable. And the find out what? That he takes 5-6 times more than local dentists of the same quality of work, just because he puts his U.S. diploma on the wall of his office and advertizes himself widely. Any other dentist and in Antigua and in Guatemala City costs much less, especially if you can explain yourself in Spanish! The quality of work is pretty much the same, and also we were not really impressed with the quality of work by Dr. De La Cruz, very average. When we came back home, I had an uncomfortable feeling around the new crown, so had to see our home dentist who said that it was not really a good fit in the mouth, so trying to adjust it.
So, if you are thinking of doing any dental work while on vacation in a developing country, it might seem very attractive, however sometimes local doctors like this De La Cruz will try to sell you anything possible (just as indigenous people on the streets try to sell necklaces or scarves). Try to do your research first and don't be fooled!
I have recently traveled trough several cities and sites in Guatemala. In all it was a beautiful trip and experience.
However, you must be aware of some "heavy handed" , "inconsistent" and "instrusive" airport inspections in the country. My first experience with these was at the Flores Airport, where a young woman inspector searched through our hand luggage and objected to our small sewing kit and nail clippers. These are the sort of items that no longer create any concern in USA airports where there are real security concerns. The matter was resolved when I repacked our hand lugagge and sent it on the checked luggage. Other young inspectors around were almost laughing at the whole situation, but the young woman kept on going.
I must mention that in Guatemala city we took a small plane to fly to Flores and at the TAG (Transportes Aereos de Guatemala) terminal there was no inspection at all. If anything this reveals a lack of consistency about inspections in the country.
My second experience was when leaving the country from Guatemala City in an international flight. there once again a young man objected to two cigars I have purchased in Copan Honduras. He also wanted to see a prescription for some witamins he found in our hand lugagge. Obviously, he could not explain what was the security concern about my cigars and my vitamins. This incident went through easily it was just a minor annoyance.
Security is always an issue these days, but some consistency and parity with international practices would be welcome.
NASA photo showing algae on surface of Lake Atitlan (October) 2009.
Lake Atitlan has a problem with sewage and fertilizer entering the lake. This year, starting in October, large masses of dying bacteria/algae that had been growing underneath the surface rotted and rose to the surface forming mats and releasing a foul odor. The stuff is toxic.
Normally (that is when the stuff isn't fouling the shoreline), the algae grows under the water and is out of sight (and until it dies and rots) not toxic. The problem appears to be seasonal but can be triggered whenever conditions are right. But there was so much of the stuff growing underneath the surface that the lowermost growth simply died for lack of light to sustain photosyntheis and floated to the surface.
The solution is to treat sewage and control fertilizer (phosphorous and nitrogen) that now enter the lake untreated and much too freely and this will probably be done with foreign assistance and funds.
Until then, hope the lake is clear when you visit.
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