Last year we had security cameras installed across our properties in La Antigua. This followed a break in at one of them and an incident where someone accused me of a committing a crime right outside my front door. The case went well enough for me and less well for my accuser, as I was out of the country at the time.
However, my lawyer pointed out that in a sense I had got lucky and that CCTV would prevent that kind of nonsense in the future. And he was right, because the cameras outside another house definitely thwarted something of a similar nature just three months after they were installed.
I have always tended to be a little blasé about the risks of living in Guatemala. I grew up in an area of London where one could park one’s vintage Aston Martin beside the pavement outside and expect it to still be there, intact, the following morning. And the locals, while a bit eccentric, tended not to be outright loons.
It has taken 18 months of security cam footage to wake me up to just how much sick shit goes on in this country and to realise that the live feeds are not really making me feel much safer.
In Guatemala surveillance of any sort will quickly remind you of that notable observation by Nietzsche: “When you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”
There has been stuff so grim that I’d hesitate to report it here in a public medium. That a woman getting down from a car, defecating and then consuming her own excrement for the amusement of the driver is not one of those unspeakables may give you a sense of how bad it sometimes gets.
There are individuals who seem blissfully unaware of the cameras and others who appear to play up to them.
The horror, when it occurs, is matched by a sense of helplessness, for over the years I have also learned that it is never safe to get involved in other people’s business in a village such as this.
The cops are rarely the ideal recourse. Indeed one of the more amusing clips in our collection is an all-night orgy which took place in a PNC patrol car right outside our principal residence.
There have been some genuinely heartwarming moments as well, yet these are somehow less memorable.
The cameras have also played a role in souring relations with the local COCOPRE (residents group) of which we were active participants until the requests to see specific clips from our feeds started getting out of hand. When one newcomer to the gatherings mentioned the possibility of getting his mates at military intelligence involved, that's enough, I concluded.