Fighting cartels, disease, and poverty, Mayor Jeaneth Ordoñez presides over a safe haven in an otherwise violent region.
In the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America, the countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala form a violent triad. The murder rate is higher in this region than in most active war zones. Gangs, cartels, and vigilantes impose their will, taking over or co-opting legitimate police forces and routinely terrorizing average citizens. A recent study identified 54 separate criminal groups in Guatemala alone. For many citizens of this region, fleeing north through Mexico to the US border is a less risky proposition than dealing with daily life in their hometown.
In the middle of this violence sits the town of San Cristóbal Acasaguastlán, a picturesque oasis of calm with a population of about 6,000 people. What sets this place apart are the efforts of Jeaneth Ordoñez, the Christian mayor who has united the townspeople in their quest to keep the municipality free of the violence and upheaval that surrounds them.
“This is a very special place,” says Eduardo Gallo, a Cuban-born medical doctor whom Ordoñez brought to town to help with health care. “We have the opportunity to improve people’s lives and to do it with love. The mayor has created a remarkable environment.”
Ordoñez’s motivation to protect and provide for her people comes directly from her faith. “God has put me in this place and given me a love and desire to serve my people and make their lives better,” she says. “I have faith in God and I love the people.”
About two hours outside of Guatemala City, the municipality encompasses a small town and a large rural area where high unemployment means poverty is all too common, as it is throughout the country. But Ordoñez …