San Juan Comalapa, Department of Chimaltenango, Guatemala — A few days ago a man who lives right around the corner from where I am staying was killed when delincuentes robbed the bus he was riding. No one knows exactly what happened, but it is thought the man may have resisted demands to turn over his money.

The violence that is racking Central America and sending refugees fleeing into the United States and even into Maine had hit home for me and my hosts here in Comalapa. While Europe's refugee crisis is grabbing headlines, relatively little attention is being paid to the refugee crisis playing out on U.S. borders.

It was the first bus of the day from Comalapa to Guatemala City. It leaves Comalapa at 3:30 a.m., and its pending departure is announced with several long blasts of a horn that could wake the dead in my house a good half-mile away.

This kind of bus assault happens regularly in Guatemala. The newspapers are full of them, and murders, horrible traffic accidents, drug deals gone bad and violent territorial disputes. Each murder story comes with a drawing depicting the killing's sequence of events. The favored getaway vehicle is the motorcycle. Sometimes the perps dismount for the act, sometimes they don't bother. And the stories come with a few quotes from photographed bystanders: "It's sad that no one can live in peace," "the government must do more," etc.

It is general, pervasive chaos and pandemonium. The violent crime rate is completely out of control. It rivals that of nearby Honduras, which year after year gives Iraq and Afghanistan a run for their money.

The other day we were talking around the dinner table about this incident that struck so close to home and I said, "But that kind of thing happens mostly during nighttime hours, right?" And the response all around the table was swift. "No, no," everyone chimed in at once, lest the point be missed, as if no one wanted to be responsible for my demise at the hands of highway bandits.

"No, no," said Miguel, my host and friend of 20 years. "That kind of thing can absolutely happen at any time of the day or night, anywhere. And don't try to resist these guys. They're crazy. They don't care whether they live or die — it's all the same to them."

No one is safe, anytime, anywhere. One hell of a way to live.

"I rarely travel by bus," Miguel said, "but when I do, I bring only the money and the things I need — I leave my cell phone at home."

Good to know, but it did leave me wondering why no one had told me this before I brought my iPhone on two round-trips to Antigua, switching buses each time and taking a total of eight buses. Not to mention all the trips I took in my six weeks here last year.

Miguel knew the man who was killed. Not well, but he knew him. He was about 50 years old and left behind five kids. Life is cheap and precarious in Guatemala, as it is in neighboring Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico.

In El Salvador gangs incubated in Los Angeles wreak pervasive havoc on the citizenry, the government powerless to contain it. In Honduras, the ultimate U.S. vassal state, the wealthy, in the form of hired thugs, show up at the doors of dirt-poor campesinos and simply steal their land, converting it to vast palm oil plantations for biofuel production. Non-violent resistance is met with savagery and attempts at democracy are crushed. Landlessness and unemployment ensue and the seeds of violent street crime are sown.

When, in 2009, Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, the democratically elected president of Honduras, was arrested at his home in the middle of the night and flown out of the country at gunpoint, the State Department announced its concern — as if such a nocturnal coup could possibly take place without the consent of Washington.

And when Zelaya, in bold defiance, returned to the country that had elected him president — stashed in the trunk of a car — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in breathtaking arrogance said this was "not helpful." No such statement was made about the uniformed thugs that had abducted Zelaya in the middle of the night.

Meanwhile, seven years after the Honduras coup, the U.S. race for president is entering its second year. Millions of words have been spoken and vast quantities of ink have been spilled, and nowhere has there there been the least mention of this utter contempt for democracy and the rule of law exhibited by one of the race's leading candidates.

The seeds of violent chaos and mayhem grow and flourish in this fertile soil. President Zelaya's effort to modestly raise the pitiful, abysmal minimum wage were crushed, as was his legal and constitutional effort to replace a constitution drafted with the assistance of the U.S. ambassador, and bearing all over it the ambassador's weighty thumbprint.

And so Honduras, like El Salvador and Guatemala, spews forth waves of economic refugees so profound and pervasive that they include children, toddlers, infants, babies, and even pregnant women. President Obama, who beseeches Congress to do more for Syrian refugees, responds to his own refugee crisis, on his own border, by rounding people up, having them languish in hellhole detention centers, and then, eventually, parading them before kangaroo courts where hanging judges send them en masse back to the hunger from which they came.

My next column will explore how the explosion of violence in Mexico and Central America, and the resulting flood of refugees, is playing out in a small midcoast town.

Lawrence Reichard is a freelance writer and activist living in Belfast.