Mob justice

Corruption is a reality for many governments around the world.

In countries like Guatemala, corruption is a part of everyday life. In May 2009, lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, fearing for his life, pre-recorded a video accusing President Alvaro Colom of his imminent murder. Hours later, the lawyer was murdered and the video was made public. The tell-all video left the Guatemalan population divided over who to believe.

This case, unlike many other Guatemalan cases, was dealt with rather quickly. Due to Guatemala’s corrupt justice system, 98 per cent of crimes are left unsolved and unpunished. Unsurprisingly, Guatemala has one of the highest crime rates in the world.

In 2009, there were over 5,400 recorded murders. Today, because the average Guatemalan is not able to easily access the justice system, citizens have the illusion that staying alive necessitates reliance on the “every man for himself” strategy.

Furthermore, even reporting a crime in the country today can put one’s life in danger.

Recently, there has been a rise in lynching in Guatemala. On Dec. 23, 2009, two men and one woman shot a bus driver in the city of Sololá. Mob justice arose when the three found criminals were subsequently beaten and burned alive. There have been several additional cases of lynchings ending in beatings, stoning, burnings and hangings. These unofficial sentences, while primitive in their practice, have proved to fulfill the need for justice harboured by many Guatemalans.

To outsiders, these incidents of mob justice are proof that Guatemalans have begun to take justice into their own hands. Laurier professor Alex Latta says, “Guatemala’s society has been shaped by a culture of impunity. It’s not simply about the justice system failing, it’s about political power manipulating the justice system so that it upholds the interests of the wealthy. In that context, local people taking a range of justice matters into their own hands becomes fairly understandable.”

Undeniably, these acts of mob justice represent desperate calls for change in government action. It appears that the citizens of Guatemala have decided, on their own accord, to counter corruption in their country.

Too many families have watched criminals get bail after only minimal jail time. The rise in lynchings and injuries in the past year shows that Guatemalans are no longer willing to tolerate corruption. If this mob justice persists, it appears Guatemalans are preparing for a larger stand against corruption.