Guatemala’s security forces cut homicide rate by cracking down on gangs

By Dialogo
March 18, 2014

Gang-related killings in Guatemala dropped significantly in recent weeks, thanks largely to the efforts of the country’s security forces, authorities said.
In January and February 2014, there were 868 killings throughout the country related to gangs and organized crime, Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla recently told journalists following a Security Cabinet meeting.
That is 146 fewer such killings compared to the same time period in 2013, when there were 1,064 homicidies, the interior minister said. The Security Cabinet meeting, on Feb. 28, 2014, was led by President Otto Pérez Molina.
In 2012, the last full year for which such statistics are available, there were 5,174 killings in Guatemala, authorities said. That was a 9 percent decrease from the number of killings throughout the country in 2011 officials said.
In 2011, the homicide rate was 39 killings per 100,000 residents. In 2012, the rate killings dropped to 34 per 100,000 residents, according to government statistics. The homicide rate in Guatemala has been reduced substantially since 2009, according to a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
About half of all killings in Guatemala are connected to gang activity or international drug trafficking, authorities said. There are 8,000 to 10,000 gang members and transnational criminal organization operatives in the country, officials estimate.

A ‘clear strategy’

Guatemalan security forces are making progress in reducing gang and organized crime violence, Pérez Molina said in his second annual government report.
“We have a clear strategy that is already providing results in eradicating violence from Guatemala. Criminals are being and will be detained, we are fighting crime and nobody is above the law,” the president wrote in the report.
The National Civil Police (PNC) and the Public Prosecutor’s Office are coordinating their efforts to fight gangs and transnational criminal organizations.
Both agencies are analyzing criminal activity, which helps officials decide the best way to use security forces, said Carlos Mendoza, a security analyst at Central American Business Intelligence (CABI), a policy consultancy firm based in Guatemala. The close cooperation between the PNC and prosecutors “may be one reason for the lower homicide rate,” Monedoa said.
The PNC, which began 2014 with 30,000 officers, is improving its training and expanding. In March 2014, 1,600 recruits will graduate from the PNC’s police academies and become officers. The new officers will be deployed in the eastern and southern regions of the country, authorities said.
Authorities are upgrading the PNC’s equipment. For example, in 2013 the Ministry of the Interior purchased 14,146 Pietro Barreta guns for the PNC.
The PNC is also improving its training. In 2013, the PNC began offering training in police science, with a specialty in community policing. The PNC also opened regional academies in Huehuetenango and Santa Rosa.
A Regional Task Force (FTT) comprised of PNC officers and members of the Armed Forces is also helping to reduce the violence.
The FTT is comprised of 1,800 soldiers and 500 police officers. In 2013, the FTT broke up 119 gangs and criminal cells which were involved in contract killings, kidnapping, extortion, robbery, and other crimes, authorities said.
“We have the best team of investigators into offenses against life, the best anti-kidnap squad and the best crime intelligence unit,” the president stated in his annual report.

Organized crime and violence

There were 56,350 killings in the country from 2003 to 2013, and 87 percent of the homicides were committed with a firearm according to a report by Plaza Pública.
Two major Mexican transnational criminal organizations, the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, operate in Guatemala, transporting drugs from South America north to Mexico, the United States, and Canada, according to published reports. Both organized crime groups have formed alliances with gangs which operate in Guatemala.
The Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas are battling each other and three Guatemalan drug trafficking families – the Lorenzana, Mendoza, ad Chamales organizations -- for control of drug trafficking routes.
Guatemalan security forces have captured important members of each of these criminal groups. For example, in April 2011, Guatemalan security forces captured Wildemar Lorenzana, the leader of the Lorenzana drug trafficking organization. He is known as “The Patriarch.” He was allegedly a key link between Colombian drug traffickers and the Sinaloa Cartel.
In August 2012, a Guatemalan court approved a request by the United States to extradite The Patriarch to that country. Attorneys for The Patriarch appealed the decision. The appeal was unsuccessful, and on March 7, 2014, President Pérez signed an order authorizing the extradition of The Patriarch to the U.S. U.S. authorities allege that The Patriarch helped transport hundreds of thousands of tons of cocaine into the United States between 1999 and 2003.

The need for continued vigilance

Guatemalan security forces are working hard and must remain vigilant, said Ana Glenda Tager Rosado, director of the Latin American office of the International Alliance for Peace Building (Interpeace).
“We need to recognize the work, effort and coordination of the state over the last four years,” Tager Rosado said.
In addition to pursuing security initiatives to reduce violence, the government should also continue to fight poverty, strengthen its democratic institutions, and boost civic engagement, Tager Rosado said.
Mendoza, the security analyst, agreed.
"With regard to people's safety, no government can have complete control over how the homicide rate evolves,” Mendoza said. “We need to recognize and value the continuous institutional and organizational reforms", stated Mendoza.