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.
Govt 11 May declared state of siege in Tajumulco and Ixchiguan municipalities in San Marcos department, bordering with Mexico, after year of trying to control intercommunal violence through dialogue; decades-old conflict over use of water and land has been compounded by introduction of poppy cultivation in recent years and links with criminal gangs engaged in turf war. Authorities 16 May announced 1,500 soldiers will participate in operations to end violence. Attorney General Thelma Aldana’s office presented annual report 16 May: 48 criminal structures dismantled and 720 people captured April 2016-March 2017, mainly over extortion or corruption rackets; records set in drug, contraband, and illegally-obtained asset seizures. Aldana 11 May revealed results of ongoing investigation into plan to assassinate her, involving “La Línea” fraud racket. Former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla named in new corruption case 8 May involving fraudulent procurement in police during his tenure under President Pérez Molina. Interior minister 11 May sacked director of prisons after series of blunders including escape of two prominent prisoners and revelations of unlawful negotiations with convicted leaders of Barrio-18 street gang to bring down violence levels in exchange for better jail conditions. Centre for Informative Reports on Guatemala (CERIGUA) 3 May declared eleven journalists murdered in country during previous nine months.
Dramatic changes upended Guatemalan politics in 2015. Forcing the pace were international prosecutors, bolstered in their fight against corruption and impunity by a great wave of support from ordinary citizens. If Guatemala’s national reforms continue when outside help leaves, it can become a true role model for the region.
Ending bloodshed in this neglected border region requires more than task forces: credible institutions, access to state services and continuing security are also needed.
Ensuring a prompt and fair retrial of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt is crucial to finally bringing justice to victims of the armed conflict and to reconciling a fragile democracy with its citizens.
The killing of protestors last October was a tragedy foretold by those who have long warned against Guatemala’s use of the armed forces to maintain domestic peace.
To stem the violence that kills thousands of Guatemalans each year, the government must find the resources and will to carry out long-stalled reforms of the national police.
Originally published in Los Angeles Times
Originally published in Miami Herald
Originally published in Semana