Photo Feature: Guatemala Gangs

With U.S. President George W. Bush stopping in Guatemala on his March 2007 tour of Latin America, we published a special two-part exclusive feature on gang culture and violence in Guatemala. Part I and Part II of the series were written by a new contributor to WPR, Billy Briggs, who traveled to Guatemala last fall with veteran photographer Angela Catlin.

Briggs is a freelance journalist based in the United Kingdon, who in 2005 was the recipient of Amnesty International’s Nations and Regions Award for his reporting on human rights issues. His writing has appeared in various publications. For more about him, as well as links to other stories he wrote about Guatemala for The Guardian and The Sunday Herald, we encourage you to check out his personal Web site.

This was also our first time working with Catlin, who has won numerous awards for her photography. She has been named Scottish Photographer of the Year on two occasions and in 2004 was named Nikon Features Photographer of the Year at the UK National Picture Editor Awards.

Here are three pictures Catlin took during her work with Briggs in Guatemala:

Gersen Armando Ramirez Santus lies on a bed in Guatemala city’s San Juan Dion Hospital with two bullet wounds in his chest. Ramirez, whose nickname is “Lucifer,” was a member of the Mara 18 gang in Los Angeles. He was jailed for murder in the United States, but later released in the wake of the late-1990s Rampart police scandal in Los Angeles. Prior to this photo, Ramirez had returned to Guatemala, where his has family.

Two members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, Pac (left) and Myner (right) stand on the railroad tracks in Guatemala City’s zone six. The two claimed that while many murders in Guatemala City are blamed on gangs, many are actually carried out by corrupt police officers in an unofficial policy of “social cleansing” of gang members, prostitutes and street children.

Juan Rivero, 21, a former member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang in Guatemala City’s zone six, openly admitted to having owned a gun and to shooting people. He is in rehab trying to escape the violence of the streets and to overcome a crack cocaine and alcohol problem.