Community Vigilantism Keeps Toto Tranquil

9 February 2011 at 08:00 12 comments

By Gustavo Visalli, KF14, Guatemala

“Esto no es Guate, ni Xela. Aquí las calles son seguras. (This is not like Guatemala City, or even Xela. The streets here are safe).”  My wonderful host in the village of Cojxac is reassuring me of the safety of the streets at night. It is my first month as a Kiva Fellow in the region of Totonicapán (aka Toto), Guatemala.  I secretly doubt my host’s words as I nod, since the ominous streets outside seem like the perfect place for a good old fashioned mugging. These prejudicial thoughts first came up as my chicken bus screeched into town. I then planned to spend many long nights safe at home re-reading my copy of The Hobbit. Ah, the crazy nightlife of a Kiva Fellow.

However, my host continued to explain that the community has a strong presence in the region. A thief, he recounted, recently stole an old woman’s bag on the main road. Alert neighbors blew their whistles and the thief was quickly apprehended. They shaved his head, displayed him to the town and warned him that he had 12 hours to gather his belongings and leave, never to return.

Vigilantism in Guatemala
Banners reading “Vecinos Organizados Contra la Delincuencia (Neighbors Organized Against Delinquency)” hang across the main road. My first thoughts were that this community had an unusually enthusiastic public concern regarding loan delinquency, but I soon learned otherwise. Delinquency = crime, not loan delinquency, in this case.

A lack of police presence sparked this community vigilantism. Of course, the question arises: How far can or should these community groups take this street justice? Is the victim of vigilantism always guilty of a crime? These are questions beyond the scope of this post. However we look at it, the intensely tight knit community identity fascinates me. This small scale organization has minimized criminal activity in the streets, and this group mentality is widespread throughout the region. Can most of us say the same for the communities in which we live?

Asociación ASDIR, a Kiva field partner in the region, is built upon this cohesion. Rural communal banks of 4-20 members are regular ASDIR borrowers. Utilizing the strength and financial security of cooperating group members, these entrepreneurs join together for loans which support their various developing working projects. Las Mujeres Emprendedoras Santa Ana (The Enterprising Women’s Group of Santa Ana) is a wonderful example.

If a neighborhood can come together to protect one another from criminals, it can certainly develop strong projects which help develop the community as a whole. ASDIR and Kiva help make this happen.  With such a strong community identity, working together out of poverty is a goal that Kiva, ASDIR, and Kiva lenders are happy to support (want to lend?). Toto is a community built on respect for your fellow compañero, and I look forward to becoming a part of it in the coming months.

Gustavo is a Kiva Fellow working with Asociación ASDIR in Nimasac, Guatemala. He has become an expert in a new extreme sport: highway shoulder hiking, and is excited to live and work in the Guatemala highlands.

Entry filed under: ASDIR, blogsherpa, Guatemala, KF14 (Kiva Fellows 14th Class). Tags: , , , , , , , .

Have Tro Tro, Will Travel in Ghana Part 1: Current State of Microfinance in India


  • […] Once again, community organization has responded to a lack of government action – similar to the neighborhood’s response to crime. The effect is a relatively clean community in a region littered with pollution. Without government […]

  • […] Community Vigilantism Keeps Toto Tranquil […]

  • […] Community Vigilantism Keeps Toto Tranquil […]

  • 4. tia jody  |  15 February 2011 at 14:29

    Gus — I enjoyed your blog and will look over lending possibilities! It’s interesting how the more prosperous a community becomes, the more its people isolate themselves. As for highway shoulder hiking, better practice up on your ditch-diving! Con carino, Jody

  • 5. Tio Silvio  |  15 February 2011 at 12:37

    Vaya Tavo! Thsi is your old tio’s first ever time reading a blog! Sounds like you’re having fun. Even thought the streets are safe..still proceed with caution! Love you!

  • 6. drew  |  14 February 2011 at 22:43

    Goose! Great to hear from you man. Keep the updates coming. Keep those chickens in check.

  • 7. Margo, Kiva Dev Intern  |  14 February 2011 at 10:37

    Uh, what exactly is highway shoulder hiking? Curious minds want to know!

    Keep up the good work, and blog posts, Gustavo. Stay safe!

  • 8. Judio  |  13 February 2011 at 20:11

    Bien dicho, Gustavo. Es obvio que lo que ocurre en Guata puede ser aqui en San Francisco no?

    Espero que todo este bien.

  • 9. Peter  |  11 February 2011 at 13:55

    Wow Gus, sounds like you are having a blast in Guatemala!

  • 10. kivasteph  |  11 February 2011 at 01:11

    Great post, Gustavo! -Stephanie

  • 11. Dana  |  9 February 2011 at 10:37

    Fascinating material Gus, thanks for posting it. Funny thing, my small Washington state community–and others all over the country–are wondering how they can ‘relocalize’ their economies, because of increasing energy costs to make & ship stuff all over the world. Maybe Cojxac should offer workshops for gingos on local living!

  • 12. Jere  |  9 February 2011 at 08:54

    Thanks for the update Gus!

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