Guatemalan funeral homes compete for corpses

AP News
Posted: Nov 29, 2009 6:39 PM

They're called "calaqueros" _ skullmongers _ and they make a living off Guatemala City's infamously high murder rate.

They chase ambulances, wait outside morgues or speed to crime scenes, trying to be the first to reach family members of the dead and sell their coffin-wake-funeral packages for as little as $150.

These mobile morticians constitute a completely unregulated _ and growing _ business that caters to inner city poor.

Competition is fierce. Some even pay police and firefighters to tip them off when a murder happens.

They offer everything from embalming to help with the red tape of acquiring a death certificate or burial permit.

And they operate from any location.

One funeral home is run out of a former mechanics garage. Caskets are sold in the front of the garage. In the back, among the old gaskets and engine blocks, the corpses are disemboweled, cleaned, embalmed and dressed for burial.

With its gang warfare and drug trafficking, Guatemala has one of the world's highest murder rates. The capital, Guatemala City, often makes the top 10 in various rankings of the world's most dangerous cities.