By day, Dr. Jorge Chiu is a cardiothoracic surgeon. By night, he volunteers as a paramedic to help the violence-ridden streets of Guatemala City. There’s no telling what he’ll be dealing with on any given night. One moment Dr. Chiu will be dealing with a house fire—the next he’ll be treating gunshot wounds.
In this episode of Profiles by VICE, we traveled to Guatemala City to learn the gritty truth about Dr. Chiu’s alter ego as a Guatemalan guardian angel.
Earlier this year, I met Dr. Jorge Chiu at a murder scene while I was documenting the Bomberos Voluntarios, the volunteer paramedics of Guatemala City. A man had been shot dead on the street, and a plastic tarp had been placed over the body as blood slowly pooled in the cracks of the pavement.
While we all waited for the cops to arrive and secure the scene, Chiu came over to me and introduced himself. He told me that he was the only fully qualified doctor going to scenes like this with the volunteers, which, given the extreme violence in this city, is a job that most people would expect to get paid for. Chiu, who is obviously not most people, is out here risking his life nightly for nothing.
As Barack Obama considers ways to enforce immigration laws “more humanely,” VICE News travels to Guatemala to meet a deportee named Ray Jesus, who lives apart from his American wife and 5 American children. When Ray lived in the U.S., he was the family’s breadwinner. Now they rely on welfare to get by. It turns out that deporting parents costs much more than the price of a one-way ticket home.
The Lost Boys of California Are Literally Dying to Pick Your Fruit
t the age when most American teenagers are trying to decide whom to ask to prom, Ernesto Valenzuela was instead weighing whether it was worse to die of thirst in the desert or have his throat slit by gangsters.
That’s the choice the 16-year-old faced in his hometown of Mapulaca, Honduras, a drowsy village where MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangsters are known for recruiting youth—sometimes as young as kindergartners—into their cartels. If the kids refuse, they are often killed. Now Ernesto was being recruited, and he didn’t want to end up one of the 6,000 people murdered each year in Honduras. With a total population just shy of 8 million, that means nearly one of every 1,000 Hondurans is a victim of homicide, making it the most dangerous place—after the war zones of Iraq, Somalia, and Syria—in the world.1
After mulling it over for months—and trying to dodge the tattooed gang members who wanted to sign him up—Ernesto decided his potential fate at home presented far more danger than what he might face at any distant desert crossing. So, early one morning in June 2013, after his mother sobbed and begged him to stay safe, he set out for a place he’d only seen in movies, a place where he’d heard a kid like himself—with just a fifth-grade education—could earn $60 a day working in the fields: America.
The remote village of Todos Santos Cuchumatanes is a pain in the ass to get to. You have to drive over a road that crawls 12,000 feet up into Guatemala’s Cuchumatanes mountain range, near the Mexican border, along the way passing massive boulders, Guatamalan army vehicles, and vultures slowly dismembering dead animals by the side of the road. The region is isolated enough that the Spanish had a hell of a time conquering the mountain people, and even today you get the sense that they’d rather be left alone—the population of Todos Santos is entirely Mayan, and for most Spanish is a second language after the indigenous Mam dialect. And while many of them are ostensibly Catholic, ancient Mayan religious traditions and beliefs still have a lot of power.
An expression of those traditions is a daylong horserace and bacchanal that locals call the Race of Souls or the Game of Roosters, which has been held every year on November 1, during the Day of the Dead festivities, ever since anyone can remember. It has its roots in the 17th century, when the conquistadors, having won a difficult victory, prohibited the indigenous people from riding horses—today the race is both a protest against colonialism and a ceremony that honors the dead. When I asked elderly residents of the town about the history of the race they said it was “ancient” and left it at that.
The riders begin preparing for the event the night of October 31. A chicken is sacrificed to bless the sandy track that snakes up a central road, and the competitors vow to abstain from sex. They spend the entire night drinking Gallo beer and a potent Guatemalan liquor called Quetzalteca. By the time the race begins the next morning, the riders are already intoxicated, and they’ll spend the rest of the day getting even more wasted—it’s what the ceremony demands—while riding back and forth on a track that goes from one end of the village to the other.
People tend to assume that the immigrants crossing the US–Mexico border are all Mexican. The reality is that a large percentage of them come from Central America, and their journey north is grueling. To get to the US, they first have to pass through Mexico, an ordeal that often ends up being even more difficult than getting into the United States. Most migrants cross into Mexico on rafts, via the Suchiate River. After that, they need to protect themselves from corrupt Mexican police, drug cartels like the infamous Zetas, and even fellow migrants. They often travel by foot and by pubic transit, but many of them ride on top of “the Beast,” the freight trains that travel from the south to the north of Mexico.
While the majority of the migrants are young men, a small percentage of them are women who endure hardships like the possibility of being raped by basically anyone they come across. Some of them are forced to stay in the border state of Chiapas and work as prostitutes because they are too weak to keep going, need to save some money to continue their journey, or, if they decide to stay, so they can travel back and forth between Mexico and their home countries to visit their kids.
For this episode of Fringes, we followed Yoana, a young girl from Guatemala who has been living in the small town of Huixtla, Chiapas, working as a prostitute to make money to help her two sons. We tagged along with a special unit from the state government that is in charge of protecting migrants as they travel through Chiapas. We then hopped on board the Beast with more than 400 other migrants traveling from Arriaga to Ixtepec, Oaxaca, to try to understand the hardships they go through and why they leave their homes in the first place.
Last night John McAfee was picked up by the Guatemala special police task force for questioning about his illegal entry into the country. His lawyer, Mr. Guerra, accompanied him to Emigrason Albergue in Guatemala City and is attempting to get John out before his press conference tomorrow. Updates to come.