BY WILL WEISSERT
TODOS SANTOS, Guatemala -- Satan worshipers -- a cult from abroad
planned to sacrifice children in the local soccer field -- were coming. Almost
everyone in this little mountain town was sure of it.
So when a sleek bus with tinted windows arrived filled with Japanese
people with pale skin in dark clothing, their faces covered to protect against the
sun -- villagers thought their nightmare had come true.
One Japanese tourist and a bus driver died in the mayhem that
of a hysteria fueled by rumors and fear of outsiders.
Nobody knows how the rumors started, but they grew rapidly.
Some said a satanic leader from Los Angeles was on his way to
this town of
2,200 people. It was said he had asked to use the soccer stadium for an all-night
session of human sacrifice -- adding to longstanding rumors of international
Unconfirmed reports that a girl was stolen in the Huehuetenango
market a year
earlier also sparked suspicion.
Fears grew so great in late April that officials closed schools
for two days. Some
churches held round-the-clock prayer sessions. Local police assured citizens
they had a plan for dealing with ``the dark forces.''
Some officials used newspaper and radio announcements to implore
stay calm. They denied any satanic cults had asked to use the soccer field.
Religious leaders tried to calm their agitated congregations.
But most of the people in Todos Santos can't read newspapers,
and the denials
only fueled suspicion.
Then, on April 29, the visitors rolled into town.
``They were in the wrong place at the worst possible time,'' said
Mendoza. ``Their bus was larger than normal, and it had tinted windows. The
Japanese were pale-skinned, in clothing our people didn't understand, with their
faces covered from the hot sun.''
Tourist Tetsuo Yamahiro startled 22-year-old Catarina Pablo by
inching too close
to her 9-month-old daughter, and Pablo screamed the words villagers were
prepared to hear: ``They've come to take our babies!''
Hundreds of people in the outdoor Saturday market began reaching for stones.
Within minutes Yamahiro lay dead, felled by the stones.
Down a graveled slope, Guatemalan bus driver Edgar Castellanos
hacked to death with a machete. His body was doused with gasoline and ignited.
Days later, investigators and journalists arrived to find nothing
more than a tranquil
Indian village where every man except the Coca-Cola truck driver wears
hand-stitched red-and-white striped pants and women wear colorful Mayan
``Todos Santos was absolutely the last place on earth we expected
like this to happen,'' said Guido Galli, head of the U.N. office in Huehuetenango,
the largest nearby town, a four-hour drive from Todos Santos.
International tourists have been coming to Todos Santos since
the late 1980s,
and its economy has come to depend on the visitors. There are three
Spanish-language schools for foreigners who spend weeks, months and even
But despite the electricity, running water and telephone service
usher in, the hamlet remains so isolated that rumors about outsiders run rampant
and visitors are still considered dangerous.
Some of the fear stems from Guatemala's 1960-96 civil war, when
forces saw Todos Santos and the surrounding areas as a haven for leftist
guerrillas and obliterated scores of villages in military raids.
The Mam-speaking people already had reason to distrust outsiders
centuries had treated them as second-class citizens.
``I think the people here are now very friendly with tourists,
but unlearning a fear of
invaders from the outside is very difficult,'' said Margarito Calmo, a 59-year-old
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald