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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > Guatemala: Squeezed between Crime and Impunity

Guatemala: Squeezed between Crime and Impunity

Bogotá/Brussels  |   22 Jun 2010

Fourteen years after the end of its civil war, Guatemala has become a paradise for crime that is deeply entrenched in the state and society, undermines institutions and thrives on extreme levels of impunity.

Guatemala: Squeezed between Crime and Impunity , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, warns that failure to address the root causes of the lengthy armed conflict, implement the 1996 peace agreement and dismantle clandestine security apparatuses has seriously corroded the country’s fundamental structures and opened the door to skyrocketing violent crime. An ineffective overhaul of the security forces after the civil war produced a corrupt and weak police force. Guatemala is one of the world’s most dangerous countries, with some 6,500 murders in 2009, more than the average yearly killings during the conflict and roughly twice the homicide rate of neighbouring Mexico.

“High-profile assassinations and the government’s inability to reduce murders have produced paralysing fear, a sense of helplessness and frustration”, says Markus Schultze-Kraft, Crisis Group’s Latin America Program Director. “In the past few years, the security environment has deteriorated further, and some communities have turned to vigilantism as a brutal and extra-institutional way of combating pervasive crime”.

Like his predecessors, President Álvaro Colom took office in 2008 with the promise of slowing the spiral of violence and taking decisive action to end impunity. But his administration has been plagued by instability and a lack of capacity. There have been five interior ministers, two of whom are facing corruption charges, while two police chiefs have been arrested for connections to drug trafficking. The president himself was nearly toppled, when a prominent lawyer and businessman was assassinated under bizarre circumstances in 2009.

In addition, Guatemala has seen the proliferation of youth gangs (maras) and Mexican drug trafficking organisations (DTOs). Under mounting pressure at home, the latter have moved into the country to compete for control of Andean cocaine and trafficking routes to the U.S.  The government needs to give priority to reforming the police, military and justice sector as well as the notoriously under-funded tax system.

Some progress has been made with international assistance, in particular from the UN-sanctioned International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). But following the surprise resignation of its director, the well-regarded Spanish jurist Carlos Castresana, in early June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should quickly appoint a successor. The international community should consider extending CICIG’s mandate beyond September 2011 and increasing political and financial support for it.

“President Colom should ask for CICIG’s extension, but he also needs to consolidate the still provisional gains by undertaking institutional reform and governance improvements; effective anti-corruption and vetting mechanisms; and a more inclusive political approach, including to indigenous peoples”, says Mark Schneider, Crisis Group´s Senior Vice President. “Perhaps then Guatemala may begin to feel the winds of change”.


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