Anthony Fontes journeys into the heart of Guatemala City’s gang culture.
The day I am to leave Guatemala City, I meet Guillermo at his home in Zone 3. A daughter answers the door — she has his deep-set eyes and round face — and smiles shyly before hurrying upstairs to fetch her father. Juan, Guillermo’s protégé at the Ministry of Sports and Culture, sits on an overstuffed couch smoking a cigarette. “El mormon ha llegado!” he shouts. The Mormon has arrived. I am not certain how that became my nickname, but I am stuck with it. Guillermo and Juan grew up in this neighborhood a generation apart. After running away from home at the age of eight, Guillermo lived on the streets, in and out of a local orphanage. At 14 he became the first leader of what would become a central clika of the 18th Street gang (M18), one of the two major transnational pandillas operating in every major Central American city. He has a round face and a round belly and looks older than his 39 years, though he often exhibits the energy of a child at play.