November 5, 2011
The text message, translated from its original Spanish, begins with a cheery salutation. “Pay attention, or I will fuck you up, along with your entire family.” After several hair-raising paragraphs, it ends with a polite sign-off: “Kindest regards, Z contra el mundo.”
Manners are everything when you’re writing a good death threat. And this particular specimen, sent not long ago to a human rights activist campaigning against organised crime in Coban, a town just over four hours’ drive north of Guatemala City, is a real doozy.
Its recipient, who asks to remain anonymous, can be accurately described as living in fear. How else do you react, when the sender (the “Z” who claims to be ranged “contra el mundo, or “against the world”) is Los Zetas, a spectacularly brutal Mexican drug cartel currently expanding its operations south through Central America?
Death threats have lately become a fact of life for the 80,000 citizens of Coban. Five years ago, the bustling market town surrounded by coffee and cardamom plantations was – like most of Guatemala – trying to rebuild in the aftermath of the country’s brutal, 35-year civil war, which ended in 1996.