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.
Judicial attempts to undermine August presidential election result continued to fuel political instability; more moves against President-elect could fuel mass protests and unrest in coming weeks.
Judicial persecution threatened to cause further turmoil. In moves that could spark further unrest, Public Prosecutor’s Office 16 Nov opened investigation into President-elect Arévalo, VP-elect Karin Herrera and four other politicians for allegedly promoting May 2022-June 2023 student protest; judiciary accused them of destruction of cultural property, illicit association and influence peddling, and asked Supreme Court to remove their immunity; fears rose that removal of immunity or arrest of President-elect in December would lead to mass protests. Earlier, Supreme Electoral Court 2 Nov confirmed suspension of Arévalo’s party Movimiento Semilla over alleged anomalies during its creation; original suspension issued in July but only became legal after electoral period ended 31 Oct. Public Prosecutor’s Office 22 Nov levelled same charges against two other politicians. Arévalo and Herrera 16 Nov said charges were “spurious” and an “assault on democracy”. Prosecutor’s office also issued arrest warrants for 27 other individuals for their role in university protest.
Congress appointed Supreme Court judges. Constitutional Court 7 Nov ordered Congress to elect magistrates for Supreme Court of Justice and Court of Appeals before end of Nov, reinvigorating process on pause since 2019. Congress 15 Nov elected thirteen magistrates to Supreme Court of Justice, some of whom have been accused of corruption, triggering protests in capital Guatemala City; 21 Nov appointed Appeal Court magistrates.
International and domestic actors reiterated support for Arévalo. Indigenous leaders and private sector actors 1 Nov signed “Action for Democracy” charter with Arévalo, which reiterated support for election result, and pledged to defend and strengthen democratic institutions. Meanwhile, twenty countries from Organization of American States Permanent Council 15 Nov voted that Prosecutor’s Office sought to undermine democracy, while U.S. and EU continued to threaten sanctions. EU electoral observation mission 13 Nov presented final report which found no fraud in vote and concluded results were legitimate.
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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