GUATEMALA: El Fish and the General


Berkeley student Anthony Fontes on the concurrent stories of El Fish, a small-time gang member, and Otto Pérez Molina, the ex-general and now president of Guatemala.

Andy, aka El Fish, aka El Ripper, aka José Luis Cuéllar Velázquez, was a secret witness for the Guatemalan government in several high-profile murder trials against his old gang, the Mara Salvatrucha, until his former homies found and murdered him. The Mara Salvatrucha and its nemesis, Barrio 18, are the two dominant transnational gangs waging war across urban Central America. Their violent evolution in the post-Cold War era has made them a media spectacle and helped build public support for militarized responses to peacetime crime known as the mano dura (iron fist). Their rank and file are primarily children like Andy, who had just turned 18 when he died. In Guatemala, ex-general and current President Otto Pérez Molina based his entire 2011 campaign on combating what many Guatemalans consider out-of-control crime. Nearly a year into his presidency, Pérez Molina has struggled to fulfill his campaign promise to lower Guatemala’s murder rate, which is among the highest in the world. Andy’s life and death, the ease with which his gang committed spectacular murder, and his government’s inability to protect him, demonstrate the deeply rooted, complex obstacles facing the ex-general in his war on peacetime crime.

Anthony Fontes
Publication date: 
August 16, 2012
Publication type: 
Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies Article