Monday, May 23, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

We had been planning to return to Petén in 2 days, on the 25th. We have been really excited about getting back home and back to work. There has been a lot happening while we've been gone. Last week we received a link to a news article about a massacre in Petén. After quickly reading it we were not too concerned. It was drug related and the workers killed were all workers from a drug lord's home town working on a drug lord's farm where he received cocaine shipments. While it is a tragic story, everyone there was involved and knew who they were working for. Again, Petén has always been a violent place, but the general rule was that if you stayed out of trouble, you wouldn't get into any. The narcos who have been running our department kept it safe. It was really a relatively peaceful place to live compared to Guatemala City.

The very next day, while driving through rural Indiana towards Ohio, Shelley was reading the facebook page of one of our friends in Santa Elena. She was hold up in her house listening to grenades, helicopters and machine gun fire. That dealt with this story. Even if you don't speak spanish, the picture from that article might interest you.
It is exactly next door to where we used to live in Santa Elena. (We only moved from there to find cheaper rent.) Basically there was a 3 hour fire fight between some Zetas and the military/police. This caused all the businesses to close for two days and schools to close indefinitely. This is where we go at least once a week to buy our groceries and pay our bills.

It happened that President Colom was in Petén to fly over the massacre site when the fire fight happened. That night he declared a State of Siege, also known as Martial Law for the department of Petén. This basically means that the military is in charge and there are no individual rights. They have imposed curfews and can arrest anybody, impound any vehicle and enter any house, all without warrants or due cause. Normally this is not a problem, as the military is often more trustworthy than the police in Petén, but during a raid of a Zeta camp they found many military uniforms among the weapons and drugs. In fact they are notorious for dressing up like officials and carrying out their kidnappings in broad daylight.

Then a few days ago there was the story about a kidnapping in Dolores, Petén. 17 armed men entered a woman's house and kidnapped her, while only asking for around $6,300. The family negotiated down to $2,700 and during the exchange 4 men were arrested. I have heard that this family was also "involved in things" but the paper does not say who the woman was nor whether they saved her. An unconfirmed addition to this story states that while 4 men were arrested, others took the money and the family member who was carrying it in addition to already having the woman. We live in the county where this took place, Dolores.

The day after the massacre we received two emails from the US embassy asking all foreigners to avoid Petén, not even going to Tikal or flying into Santa Elena. After that the Guatemalan Tourism Agency (ASISTUR) gave the same notice. For this reason we had to cancel our next 2 teams. One was a KBI module scheduled for next week and the other was a youth team that was going to do evangelistic outreaches in new Kekchi villages scheduled for July.

So presented with all of this information we have decided to extend our stay in the States for a short time more. The State of Siege was only declared for 30 days, so we might stay until then. Every day we are monitoring the situation and talking to friends there to get a feel for the situations. Our town was known for being a base for the old family who ran things, but they have now fled Petén. There are many situations we have to be concerned about. While not concerned about checkpoints or housing raids by the military, I would be concerned if what appeared to be the military ended up being a group of Zetas dressed up like military. We cannot gloss over the fact that if there are groups hoping to profit from extorsions and kidnappings, we would be likely targets.

I am confident that the government will soon have the roads secure and the larger cities. We are always careful when visiting rural villages and have had in place a personal rule against traveling in rural areas close to the Mexican border. At the latest we will return after the State of Siege is lifted, but it is possible we will return even sooner. We request your prayers for our national friends who are in this dangerous area and do not have the option to go somewhere safe. Please pray that the Zetas do not take over since they are much more violent. Please also pray that we will have wisdom as to when to return to Petén. We just want to go home and get back to work.


  1. I'm so glad to hear that you're staying in the US a little longer. Things are really nasty up there and definitely not the sort of thing you want to bring your little guys into the middle of!

  2. Thanks Genesis! It is a tough decision. Life with little ones changes your perspective completely. Without them, we would have probably already been back.


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