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Organized crime networks dedicated to human trafficking have had a great deal of time to perfect their system and ally themselves with new players in Guatemala, including drug traffickers. Small criminal structures exploit indigenous women, trafficking them from rural areas to the capital. Dozens, maybe even hundreds, of women are trafficked from other countries to Guatemala by larger criminal organizations. Sexual exploitation — in a country with high crime rates, a woeful human rights record and a judicial system that is only just starting to recognize it as a crime — is flourishing.
In the nameless bar everything is a little grim, a little dirty, a little sad. A little like a funeral. One of the men grabs a woman by the belt, and they slowly stagger against the brightly lit jukebox without looking at each other. On a chair against the wall sits another woman with an older man, separated by a table cluttered with empty beer bottles. She is trying her hardest not to fall asleep, waking herself every now and again to serve a beer.
The light in the room is dim. The walls — dirtied and peeling — are covered in posters of blonde, bikini-wearing models advertising beer. The woman who was dancing with the man against the jukebox disappears from the scene. That will happen all night long: suddenly one of the four women will vanish with a man, returning half an hour later from one of the cheap motels around the corner.
The canteen is located on Ninth Avenue in the middle of Guatemala City. It is a dimly lit area with dirty walls, barred windows and pick-up trucks coughing smoke.
The area is in flux, as the government tries to rejuvenate the central district. Only three blocks away is the rejuvenated pedestrian area along Sixth Avenue, which is littered with newly opened cafes.