Christian, left, and Roberto work as self-described 'sicarios', or assassins, in Guatemala.
Christian, left, and Roberto work as self-described 'sicarios', or assassins, in Guatemala. John Burnett/NPR
Christian, 25, and Roberto, 44, are sicarios. Christian left the National Civil Police in April 2008; Roberto left the police in 2000. As sicarios, they estimate they've killed two dozen people between them. Following are excerpts from an interview they did together with NPR's John Burnett.
Here in Guatemala, we're suffering a crisis. It's messed up because there's no justice. They do whatever they want and the people prefer to take the law into their own hands. There are those who prefer, when there's lots of extortion, to pay sicarios (assassins). They pay civilians like us who've left the police, who know how to contact these people.
We do it for the money and because we're friends. They know us. A store owner tells me, "Look, buddy, some people are f—-ing with us. They're asking me for money." I say, "We can do something about it." He tells me, "How much do you want?" I say, "5,000 quetzales ($650)" "Okay then," and we do it.
In place of paying the extortion, it's better to eliminate them at once. For me the most fruitful maneuver is to cut the problem at the roots.
There are people where we live who own buses, they know who they can call, and they call us. Our contracts start at 4,000-5,000 quetzales ($500) and up, per target. It depends on the person. If it's someone powerful, someone who will require more time and more study, it goes up to 15,000-20,000 quetzales ($2,000). Our clients are bus companies, taxi companies, store owners, lawyers, anyone with money.
It's not just us two. We work for a company. We have a boss. He calls us, gives us a job, come to the shop, he gives us a motorcycle or a car and a weapon, gives us the address, and then do the job.
When we get a contract then we learn everything we can about that person. They give us the extortionist's cell phone number. We start to talk with the extortionists and try to figure out who they are, where they are, and how we can get to them. They'll say we know you own so many taxis or buses and based on that we want the payment made in a certain place. So we come in once, twice (with the ransom money). Once we know where they go, where they live, and when they arrive we do the job and it's all finished. Then we ask for the money after the job.
It's better (to kill them) in their car, or in their house. It depends on how big their group is. At times, six of them come. They have AK-47s, they always travel well armed.
How do we like to do the job? It depends on whether or not the person is running away. If he's standing, three or four bullets to the head to make sure the job is done well. You don't want them going to the hospital alive or identifying you.
We're not afraid of the police. We're only armed when there's a job. Otherwise, we don't have any reason to be afraid. And they know us.
There are lots of people (sicarios) working in this. It's become very commonplace. People are obligated to pay us to avoid paying extortion. It's better to pay 5,000 to 10,000 quetzales to us than to the extortionists. Some groups have as many as 30 (sicarios). In our group, there are five to six ex-police. Some are ex-military. They have good experience with weapons.
It's like a chain. An employee will tell you how to contact us. This is not the type of work that we can hand out business cards. You have to have good connections. It's dangerous work.
We work in Tierra Nueva, a colonia of Guatemala City. We have a meeting house. We study lots of plans, know the streets, how to get in and get out, everything. Different groups work in different areas—Canales, Zone 3, Zone 15. There are lots of groups in different colonias. Also, the provinces pay.
We're both married with children. Our wives don't know what we do. I leave every morning at 5 a.m. I tell her I work in a mechanic shop. No one in our families know.
Sometimes we don't have work. We may go several days without work. Right now we're waiting for a call to see if the company needs us. We're waiting in the shop. Some jobs you can do in one day, others take eight days.
Are we a death squad? Well, yes. But on the side of the people. We help the people for a minimum cost. We're helping Guatemala, to clean up all this garbage.