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.
Guatemala’s new president, Bernardo Arévalo, faces significant challenges in meeting promises to root out corruption. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024, Crisis Group explains how the EU can support his efforts and help ensure the country’s stability.
Country saw transfer of power as planned, with Bernardo Arévalo assuming presidency after months of tireless efforts to block August election result and turbulent inauguration.
Arévalo assumed office after last-ditch attempt by opposition to stall proceedings. Following months of relentless attempts to overturn election result, Bernardo Arévalo and Karin Herrera 15 Jan were sworn in as President and VP. Inauguration started nine hours later than scheduled after outgoing Congress 14 Jan tried to stall swearing in of new members of legislature; it also decided that, due to ongoing legal cases, incoming deputies from Arévalo’s Movimento Semilla party would be considered “independent”, leading to confrontations among lawmakers. Legislative body eventually sworn in after hours of delays, however, with Semilla’s Samuel Pérez selected as President of Congress; Pérez immediately reinstated deputies into party, while Arévalo was sworn in to presidency. Thousands of supporters celebrated in capital Guatemala City as Arévalo thanked Ancestral Authorities for leadership during transition; Indigenous leaders ended 106-day-long strike. Constitutional Court next day invalidated election of Congress’ leadership and in new vote 19 Jan Partido Azul’s Nery Abilio was elected its president.
International community signalled support for Arévalo. Representatives from countries across the world attended swearing in ceremony, including heads of state from Colombia, Honduras, Chile and Paraguay, exerting pressure on Congress to allow transfer of power. Following inauguration, U.S. aid agency chief Samantha Powers 15 Jan announced $6mn for program to develop rural areas while U.S. State Department 17 Jan sanctioned former President Giammattei for corruption. EU High Representative Josep Borrel 16 Jan announced €50mn investment to support Indigenous communities and cooperation with Arévalo administration on strengthening democracy, and combating climate change and corruption.
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.
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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