Back when I was living in Xela, Guatemala…
As you can read here…
I was living in a homestay family that you can read about here.
And basically taking Spanish lessons and volunteering at some local school.
Anyway, the homestay family happened to live in some working class neighborhood or something where you’d never see any other foreigners.
Aside from those who happened to go to the same Spanish school as I did.
Here’s a photo also of said Spanish school where I’d have different teachers every few weeks working with me.
Anyway, to get to the school, you’d have to go downhill a bit.
On a particular morning walking to that school…
Everything seemed normal.
Stores opening up.
And I happened to pass by some normal looking beat up vehicle.
As I passed it, some guy got out of the passenger door with a giant ass shotgun pointed up towards my head.
Now he wasn’t threatening me or anything.
That’s just how he got out.
But it did take me back to have a random shotgun appear out of nowhere and pointed directly towards my head.
Though that wasn’t the only time I saw some big guns in Guatemala….
However, it was one of the first times where I came to notice that places tend to be more heavily armed in this part of the world.
Whenever I would go to the center of Xela…
As you can see in this photo here.
I remember seeing armed guards with big ass guns protecting every business that happened to have money.
If I remember right, I think they had a McDonalds in the center?
Or some fast food joint from the US but I’m pretty sure it was McDonalds.
And they had an armed guard with some big ass rifle standing outside the place by the entrance.
Other stores that looked like they had money or were international businesses also had guards with big ass guns.
Now who in their right mind is going to rob a McDonalds?
Like do they really need this guy with this big ass gun to protect the place?
What are they going to steal?
A hamburger and all 100 dollars out of the cash registers?
As I said, that was one of my initial moments where I woke up to the fact that places like Guatemala look pretty heavily armed to the teeth in areas you wouldn’t think would be normal.
But it wasn’t the first time I saw something like that.
Big Guns in Tabasco
As I wrote about here, my first trip to Latin America ever was to Chiapas, Mexico.
However, before arriving to Chiapas, we stopped for the night at some hotel in Tabasco, Mexico.
It was late at night and we had some colonial looking hotel in the city of Villahermosa.
Standing on the balcony, I could see some interesting looking nightclub in the distance that made me want to visit.
But I figured against it.
Anyway, as I’m basically people watching while on the balcony…
I see this huge ass Mexican truck just roll on by with some guy standing in the back with some heavy ass machine gun.
Looked like he was about to go to war with something heavy.
That was the very first memory I ever had when it came to seeing big guns carried around like that in Latin America.
In Iowa and the US generally speaking, we have guns obviously.
Nothing wrong with that.
And people walking around with their guns on person and all.
But you don’t generally see such a heavy normalization of weapons in certain contexts.
Like going to a McDonalds with a security guard that has a big ass rifle on hand.
Or military looking folks strolling on by looking like they about to fight the Taliban or some shit.
There’s one other example that comes to mind that was very recent.
The Armed Guards of the 7-11
I’ve been to a few 7-11s in Mexico City.
Normally, you don’t see heavy guards in most establishments.
At least not in my experience.
In the 7-11s or the OXXOs where I lived in Roma Norte, I never saw any armed guards.
But the 7-11 closets to me right now has at least 2 if not 3 guards standing by at all times.
There’s one by the entrance.
Another by where the beer is.
And I believe one more sometimes?
Though normally it’s 2.
Both usually armed pretty well with big ass rifles on hand.
Now it’s weird…
Because the area I live in really doesn’t come across dangerous at all.
It’s actually quite nice looking!
But as I was standing in line a few days ago waiting to buy some 20 liters of water so I can make my black tea…
I noticed the guard by the entrance with his huge ass rifle.
Now, to be honest, I didn’t think much of it.
It doesn’t surprise me anymore to see this.
But, for some reason, it clicked to me again in that moment that this isn’t normal in other parts of the world.
Not normal in the US where I’m from.
Not normal in most parts of Latin America that I have seen.
Though, in my experience, seeing shit like this varies heavily by what part of Latin America you are in.
To be honest, there’s only a few countries where there seems to be such a heavier degree of weapons and guards just floating around.
Thinking about it now…
I’d say Mexico and Guatemala are up there.
I’ve never been to El Salvador or Honduras but I’ve heard it’s similar supposedly.
I remember a little bit of it in Venezuela in my brief time there.
Depends but yeah I’ve seen some of this also in Colombia also.
I didn’t spend much time at all in Brazil but I’d imagine you could see this easily enough in Brazil given all of the crime there.
And, obviously, it’s not those countries as a whole where you would notice this.
Like take Mexico for example…
In a Mexican city known as Pachuca, I don’t remember seeing too much of this.
Even in banks.
Seemed relatively chill.
For the most part, Mexico City does seem chill.
You do see the occasional police vehicle roll on by where it has police or maybe federales standing in the back of the truck?
But I don’t remember ever seeing them carry heavy ass machine guns like I did in Villahermosa.
That one incident of seeing heavily armed guards in that specific 7-11 did catch me attention in part because, even though it’s normal to me now, I haven’t seen that in a while.
If you go to other OXXOs nearby or whatever in my specific neighborhood…
You won’t see it.
Go to a worse neighborhood with more crime like Pedregal de Santo Domingo just south of me?
I lived there for 5 or so months and didn’t see that ever from memory.
So, for whatever reason, that specific 7-11 feels the need to hire some heavily armed guards.
Granted, they have a few homeless folks who camp outside of it but homeless folks don’t seem to encourage other businesses to have that amount of security…
Either way, I’d say it’s not anywhere as common in Mexico City as other parts of Mexico like Tabasco perhaps.
And other countries, like Guatemala, do seem to take the cake for it from what I remember.
But I’m sure Guatemala and other countries like Colombia will vary a bit depending on what part of the country you are in just like Mexico.
Some places that have heavier security than others for whatever reason.
At the end of the day, it’s not really that big of an issue to me.
Like I said, it’s normal to me to see that after enough time down here…
But I remembered my initial impression of this aspect of life here when I saw that guard in the 7-11…
Going back to when I lived in Xela, Guatemala or first visited Mexico in Tabasco.
Wasn’t as normal to me back then and was definitely interesting to see.
So I figured I might as well write this article up since it might be something that could be new to you if you ever decide to visit Latin America.
Though, as I said, not all of Latin America is the same on this topic.
Go to places like southern Chile and you probably won’t see this as much.
Or at least not from what I remember.
Of course, in some countries, this aspect of life has become more noticeable.
The most obvious example to me of that is Mexico where I’ve been now for the last 4 years.
As you can read here, the Mexican President AMLO has militarized the country’s security a bit more in the last few years.
Here’s a quote from the article:
“President López Obrador came to power a year and a half ago promising a gradual withdrawal of the military from the nation’s streets.
But on Monday he published a decree ordering the armed forces to continue carrying out public security tasks for another four years, an about-face that appears to acknowledge that the National Guard has failed in its mission to reduce violence.
The decree states that the military will patrol the streets and carry out public security operations in conjunction with police forces and the National Guard until March 2024. López Obrador’s six-year term will end six months later.”
Either way, as I said, that’s an aspect of life down in some parts in Latin America for those who didn’t know.
Thoughts? Drop them below in the comment section.
Follow my Twitter here.
Thanks for reading.