Poverty and violent crime continue to plague Guatemala 25 years after its last left-wing guerrillas laid down their arms. More than half the population lives on less than $4 per day. Youth are particularly vulnerable to predatory street gangs. After spiking in 2009, crime rates fell due partly to investigations by a UN-sponsored commission, but the government terminated that body’s mandate early in response to a series of corruption probes, imperilling efforts to curb impunity. Thousands of Guatemalans risk being robbed or assaulted on migratory routes. In its research and advocacy, Crisis Group encourages holistic reform and crime-fighting approaches that get at the root causes of insecurity.
On 25 June, Guatemalans will elect a new president, completing a campaign riddled with controversy. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Pamela Ruiz explains that the contenders are promising tough security policies and distancing themselves from the past international anti-corruption initiatives amid widespread public disaffection.
Violence against protesters opposing electoral interference after Bernardo Arévalo’s surprise victory left one dead.
Protests against judicial interference in electoral transition paralysed country. Amid continued efforts by Attorney General Consuelo Porras and Public Prosecutor’s Office to derail electoral transition, indigenous leaders, civil society and student organisations 2 Oct began protesting, establishing roadblocks throughout country and calling for resignation of Porras and other judicial officials; indigenous leaders called for nationwide strike. Blockages led to food and fuel shortages. Porras 9 Oct urged govt to act against “illegal” demonstrations and to clear roadblocks using force if necessary, while outgoing President Giammattei same day suggested protest leaders were receiving foreign funding. Riot police next day began clearing roadblocks and using tear gas. Interior Minister Napoleón Barrientos 16 Oct resigned after Porras requested his dismissal for not forcefully dispersing protests.
Unrest left one dead. In first casualty since protests began, unidentified gunmen 16 Oct killed one person and wounded two other protestors in Malacatan town, San Marcos department (west); videos on social media same day showed machete-carrying assailants attacking protesters in El Asintal township, Retalhuleu municipality (south west), allegedly in concert with police; Arévalo condemned violence.
International community reiterated its support for Arévalo. Arévalo 4 Oct restarted transition process, next day asked govt and demonstrators to engage in dialogue. Meanwhile, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 2 Oct called for “peaceful political transition”, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan 3 Oct promised to ensure accountability for “those who are trying to suffocate democracy”. Organization of American States head Luis Almagro 10 Oct described election interference as “shameful”. U.S. official 24 Oct said Washington could apply sectoral sanctions to “support democratic process”. U.S. and EU same day issued joint statement, expressing concern about “flagrant attempts to undermine” elections.
As the coronavirus rages in Mexico and the northerly Central American countries, criminal outfits have adapted, often enlarging their turf. To fight organised crime more effectively, governments should combine policing with programs to aid the vulnerable and create attractive alternatives to illegal economic activity.
As the coronavirus spreads, and the U.S. presidential election looms, the Trump administration and Mexican government continue to deport migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some deportees are carrying the virus. Central American states should press their northern neighbours for more stringent health measures.
President Jimmy Morales has made good on his promise to shut down a UN-backed commission fighting rampant crime and impunity in Guatemala. Though it leaves a vital legacy, the commission’s exit risks strengthening the hand of criminal networks that operate with state complicity.
Next year, President Jimmy Morales vows he will end the mandate of the UN-backed Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. Hugely popular, the commission has helped reduce the country’s terrible murder rate. To keep it going, its supporters should refocus on fighting the worst violent crime.
The northward flow of undocumented migrants fleeing economic hardship and violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America exposes thousands of vulnerable people to mass victimisation. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to continue to pursue an approach grounded in supporting community violence prevention, institutional reform and poverty alleviation in the countries of origin while supporting transiting countries in managing the flow.
Guatemala’s fight against corruption is in danger after President Morales attempted to expel the head of a uniquely effective UN-backed anti-corruption organisation. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Analyst for Guatemala Arturo Matute says a corrupt elite is waging a battle to maintain its privileged position.
Central American gangs are responsible for brutal acts of violence, abuse of women and forced displacement of thousands. Governments must go beyond punitive measures and address the social and economic roots of gang culture, tackle extortion schemes and invest in communities.
A year after the election of would-be reformer Jimmy Morales as president, corruption investigations are casting a shadow over his inner circle. Recent appointments bring youth and oxygen to his faltering administration, but much still stands in the way of political renewal.
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