During a visit to Tarapoto in 2011 we rode in a moto taxi to an isolated jungle clearing to see petroglyphs. The site had the look of an attraction…if it can be called that, that hadn’t been visited or cared for in tears. The jungle is in the process of reclaiming it. The site is located at the end of a dead-end road, and as we got out of the moto taxi I noticed a man who had been sitting at the side of the road get up, and with the help of a young boy the man placed a tree trunk across the road.
It took only 10 minutes to view the petroglyphs and as we got into the mototaxi to leave I saw the man again stand up, but this time with an ancient shotgun in his hands. The moto taxi driver stopped at the tree trunk barrier. She said and did nothing but stare straight ahead…it was obvious she’d seen this situation before. After a minute or so the man motioned with his gun toward a pail the boy held. At that moment I actually had a flashback to the movie ‘Deliverance’. This was raw humanity in a jungle, stripped bare of all societal norms. My stubborn side didn’t want to give this guy a penny under these conditions, but I had Maribel and her father with me and couldn’t gauge what the shotgun toter would do if I refused so I put some money in the pail…I don’t remember how much. The man and boy removed the barrier and we returned to Tarapoto.
The following year on the outskirts of Jaèn in route to Zapotal we were stopped at a police checkpoint for a routine look at our identification documents. Having satisfied the police we resumed our travel, only to be stopped 100 years further by a large band of young men dressed in black military clothing from boots to beret. They were carrying military assault rifles. Maybe it was because of a gringo in the car that they waved us through. All other drivers handed money to the men before being allowed to continue. This was in full view of the police checkpoint.
In Peru, the man and boy in Tarapoto and the quasi-military group in Jaèn are known as ‘ronderos’ – a sort of community vigilante force supposedly existing to provide protection to the public where the national police can’t or won’t do it. I would choose a different word to describe them – I think extortionist would be a good fit for what they do. How the activities of the ronderos described above is protecting the public is beyond me. And yet Maribel’s relatives living in Jaèn support them, saying that crime would be even worse without them.
An article appeared on the internet today dealing with the activities of ronderos in the city of Cajamarca. It is well worth reading in that it deals with the murkiness of these groups.
Incidentally, unless I’m reading it wrong there is an inconsistency in the article. One part of the article reads, “Esperanza Leon, the local chief prosecutor, said the rondas, which are illegal, are trying to create a parallel justice system”, while further down the page it says they, “won legal status in the 1993 constitution...” If anybody can clear that up for me I’d appreciate it.