Self-Styled Justice in Guatemala:
People here call it limpieza social , Spanish for “social cleansing.” But the recent surge in armed abductions and murders by self-appointed anti-crime squads throughout Guatemala is leaving a messy trail of blood and tears.
Almost every night, teams of gunmen storm into the nation’s poorest neighborhoods to seize another man, woman, or teenager deemed guilty of wrongdoing. Almost every morning, another corpse turns up showing signs of torture or strangulation.
Already this year, Guatemalan human rights monitors say, as many as 98 people in this nation of about 13 million are known to have been murdered by such groups, and 364 others have been killed by methods that suggest such groups could be responsible. Last year, nearly 3,000 murders similar to these took place, and officials predict the total this year could exceed that.
Often the targets are petty thieves or tattooed members of the fearsome gangs that have terrorized residents across Central America for the past decade. But just as often, they appear to be victims of mistaken identity, false accusations or petty personal feuds.