Living with Cartels in Guatemala

Yes, we lived beside cartel members. In the fall of 2015, we moved from Layton, UT to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. After making the necessary preparations for our Jeep we set out for the 3000-mile journey to Guatemala. It took us seven days to arrive.

We stayed in Guatemala City with Wendy’s parents for a month while finding a place in Queztaltenango (Xela) which is three hours to the west of Guatemala City. We found a nice place in a small development that we rather liked. We had some great neighbors. There were many lawyers, business people, a senator, and some cartel members.

How did I know they were cartel members? Well, to be honest, it was the family of a cartel member. You could tell because of some of the out-of-character things that went on over at the house. For example, no one, not even the senator who lived three houses down had so much security. The senator actually did not have ANY security. The family had four body guards on patrol. There was always one person on guard 24/7. They were ALWAYS armed and anytime one of the children was outside there more people on guard. This is unusual even for very rich people in Guatemala. Normally you would see only one or two body guards not four.

Second, the types of cars they drove were expensive. They had multiple cars and they were not cheap. If I remember correctly they had a Land Rover, a Lexus, and I can’t remember what the truck was at the moment.

Third, when I talked to them they were very standoffish. They didn’t want to interact much. They were nice but not overly engaging. When I asked some questions to get to know them they would give vague answers. They told me only that the father “worked at the border.” These are some pretty dead giveaways of drug trafficking involvement.

One might ask if I was scared to have such an element so close to me (two houses down). The answer is very simple, no. It never alarmed me. In fact, I welcomed it. When you have the family of cartel members in your neighborhood you know it is going to be safe. For example, when gang members (different than cartel members) come into a neighborhood where cartel members reside, you can be very certain that they will not last long and will not cause problems. The cartel body guards will not allow ANYTHING to threaten them. They keep themselves save and those around them. They do this for selfish reasons of course but those living around them at least reap the benefits.

When we moved to our second house due to some water problems in the first house we also encountered cartel members. These were from Colombia. Being from Colombia does not necessarily mean you are involved in drugs but being from Colombia in Xela is not common unless you are in the drug trade. The same characteristics were there as well. Fancy cars, body guards…etc.

In the end, having that element in the neighborhood was never an issue. I never felt in danger in the neighborhood with them there. They were friendly enough although I did keep some distance. The only other encounter I had with drug cartels was when I was on a walk with my dogs in my first house

It was about 6:30 in the morning when I passed what I found out was a cartel safe house. The garage door was open and I glanced over to see two Mexicans all tatted up. I knew they were Mexican due to their accent, mannerisms, and words they used. They must have just gotten to the safe house because it looked like they were unpacking. They seemed also to be somewhat inebriated. They looked over and saw me and threatened to send their dogs out attack my dogs. They kept yelling at me and threatening me. I picked up my pace a little to get out of there. Nothing really came of it. They were just being drunk idiots but after that I took a different street from then on in order to avoid the house.

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Our life in Guatemala: Living beside drug cartel members

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