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A documentary produced by SDC Video (Sound Development) filmed almost eight years ago is still relevant today.

Duel with the Devil is an hour long documentary that followed RCMP officers training Guatemalan crime scene investigators to help improve their dreadful rate of convictions in the capital. (only 15 conviction per 5,000 murders that year)

The film explored the justice system as a whole and got unprecedented access to Pavon Prison just outside of Guatemala City.

Pavon not like other Prisons

Unlike other prisons where you need to contact the authorities first, our story producer, former CNN Latin American correspondent Adelma Bercián said that it is just easier to call the prisoners first.  They all had cell phones.  And if they like your pitch, they will do the paperwork for you.

So that was the first step in our journey through the somewhat strange world of Pavon.  As in most prisons, you’d expect a large number of cell blocks and iron gates.  But not in Pavon, it was more like a typical Guatemalan village surrounded in the distance by high barb wired fences. There were bakers, stores,  restaurants and cafes.

We sat across from one man at an outdoor cafe.  With a soft drink in hand, he told us he was on ‘death row.’

Luxuries in Prison

As we toured other locations, some prisoners had two story suites with art work, full working bars and lovely tiled floors.  There were billiard rooms for recreational purposes. And some of the marble was lovely to look at.

Part of the footage from that production will appear in Chasseurs de Crimes, a Swiss production about Geneva-based lawyers who are focused on bringing major violators of human rights to justice.

During our production, we had interviewed two men in prison, Jorge Batres and Luis Zepeda.  They were quite tough criminals by any standard but they became the subject of a significant human rights investigations.

Murdered by the Army

About six months after our interviews, the prison was invaded by the Guatemalan army, which is  caught on camera in our documentary.  The army claimed Batres and Zepeda were killed in a shoot out with the army.  Later the evidence appeared to lend more credence to the idea that they were lined up, as with other members of the prisoner’s committee and killed.

Eventually eight went on trial for the murders with sentences from 27 to 270 years.


Footage from the documentary is being used in Chasseurs de Crimes, a documentary by Swiss production company Akkafilms.


More about the film: Duel with the Devil.