CIUDAD QUETZAL, GUATEMALA – They are wearing masks, and are armed with bats, machetes, and guns. They line the road, block our car and signal us to get out. We have no choice but to do as we’re told. Their masks and weapons are a fearful demonstration of force, but these aren’t gangsters, and my fellow passengers, who are Guatemalan, remind me not to be scared. These are crime fighters.
One man silently keeps his gun aimed on us, another performs a pat down, another searches the car, and still another narrates the whole experience. “We are the patrol of Ciudad Quetzal. We are participating in the fight against crime and delinquency. Thank you for your cooperation with this organized community.” The other masked men (and supposedly a few women, though it’s difficult to tell behind their masks) stand to the side of the road, signaling other cars to stop for inspection or pass on through.