De Leon, Guatemala City, March 28, 2001.
28 Guatemala City
Several weeks ago there were rumblings about an attempted coup. Nearly
every day the papers report corruption in high places. The owner of
one newspaper--El Periodico--was accosted by masked men who warned her
that she'd be sorry if the paper kept investigating a banking scandal.
Most people say cronies of the current President are involved.
"In Guatemala the rich people live by double standards," 24-year-old
Jorge De Leon tells me. "They are thieves, but they kill us saying
we are thieves. No one cares. At least gang members are honest. If gang
members rob, they say it. If they take drugs they say it."
Jorge got involved in gangs at an early age.
"My mom was half crazy. She abandoned me when I was six. When she
left I used to cry every night and I became resentful because I couldn't
express my feelings openly. I kept a lot of things inside. My father
left too. He joined the guerrillas. I grew up with my grandmother in
a barrio full of gangs. The violence felt good to me. I was getting
out my feelings."
But according to Jorge the street violence now between two gangs Mara
Salvatrucha and 18th Street is more deadly
than the old style of fighting in his day.
Jorge still hangs out with gang friends. He makes
tattoos. After being
stabbed and locked up in prison many times, he decided to go to art
school. He shows me some photos a friend took of a performance piece
he did at an art museum here.
"My father's family was involved in politics. My grandmother and
my uncle were murdered by the army. Other family members were disappeared."
"My generation are growing up with a different
war. Guatemala is a country where no one speaks the truth. I realized
that in the gangs I was committing suicide slowly. I wanted to make
a work of art to shock people and to make them see none of us are telling
the truth. So I sewed my mouth shut."