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Interview with Guatemalan Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González

Interview with Guatemalan Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela            González

By Dialogo
October 06, 2010

It is interesting that a magazine about the violence and delinquency of Guatemala is published, since it is very difficult to find this information on the Internet. I congratulate you for what are you doing.

What are Guatemala’s security priorities at present?

Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González:

The security priorities of President Álvaro Colom’s administration are
combatting and eradicating illicit trafficking: kidnappers, gang members, and even
drug trafficking – which is not only a Guatemalan problem. Drug trafficking is a
regional problem. It’s also not only a U.S. problem. You’ve been aware of events in
this regard and also of the actions underway in Guatemala to combat this plague that
does so much damage not only to Guatemalan youth, but to the entire region. In this
regard, we think that the threat is a regional one – and the way to combat it is
also regional. We’ve made great efforts with U.S. agencies to combat drug
trafficking through both air operations and naval operations, where we’ve had
demonstrable successes.

To what degree do you consider the gang problem to be a security problem?
Is being part of a gang considered a crime in Guatemala?

Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González:

The famous maras [gangs] began in Guatemala as a social problem. People
needed to feel that they belonged, and they found in gangs the family that they
didn’t have elsewhere, since the majority of them came from broken or non-existent
homes. Children who came into the world without knowing a father’s warmth. They
found in gangs precisely what they were missing – brotherhood. They developed a
hierarchy, and now the gangs use this hierarchical structure to commit illicit acts
and engage in criminal activities directed toward obtaining resources through
non-legal means. Now, the other response that I want to give is that being part of a
gang is not in itself a crime. A crime is prosecuted when a gang member commits an
illicit act.

With regard to juvenile delinquents – what is the government doing to
prevent them from joining gangs, and what measures are being taking with
regard to young people who are already gang members?

Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González:

President Álvaro Colom has started many social programs, but there’s one in
particular that’s called “open schools.” Open schools are the same public schools,
but for young people of all ages who are not able to go to school during the week.
So they use the space on the weekends to learn a trade; they learn to play an
instrument, they learn to sing, or a dance that’s in fashion. The idea is to
motivate them so that they don’t join gangs. But there are many gang members who
take part in these social programs – approximately 247,000 young people are
participating in these “open schools” programs. And it’s not only in the capital.
There are open schools across the length and breadth of our country, with very
positive results. It’s a good program, headed by the president and the first lady,
that I feel is giving fast, quick, and well-defined results – in order to prevent
young people from continuing to be part of and participate in these gang-related

What measures have been implemented by the Armed Forces Joint Command in
the fight against drug trafficking? What more should be done to combat
illicit trafficking?*

Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González:

The political constitution of the Republic of Guatemala orders the army [to
guarantee] internal and external security, but since the peace agreements were
signed in 1986, this mandate has been restricted a little, and this task is assigned
to the national civil police. We frequently carry out joint and combined actions
with them. We’re taking a stand against the problems arising from drug trafficking
both on land and on sea and doing interdiction of some aircraft entering our
country. In this way, we’re doing what we can to eradicate or at least neutralize
illicit trafficking and also combatting it directly.

How can regional cooperation contribute to the fight against illicit
trafficking and crime, as well the exchange of police and military
intelligence between Guatemala and other countries in the region?

Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González:

There’s a fundamental point here, and I want to make the following comment.
Organized crime as a whole and drug trafficking, which is a part of it, do not
respect borders, either coming or going. Guatemala forms part of a natural bridge,
with all the Central American countries, where all types of illicit traffic come and
go, including arms, migrants. We need to be in constant communication with
neighboring countries in order to pass on to them, and also in order for them to
pass on to us, whatever kind of information can make it possible to directly combat
any of that illicit traffic I just mentioned. There can be no delay in obtaining
precise information about the methods they use and the places [they operate] in
order to make it possible to directly fight drug trafficking.

Some countries in Latin America are studying the possibility of granting
police powers to the armed forces in order to enable them to contribute to
the fight against crime, gangs, and drug trafficking. What is your opinion
about this growing trend in the region?

Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González:

I want to return to what I said at the beginning about this decree that makes
it possible to support units of the National Civil Police in combatting drug
trafficking and organized crime as a whole. We don’t have the legal possibility of
seizing a criminal and booking him. What I can tell you is that if someone is
committing an illicit act and is caught in the act, any citizen, including the army,
can detain him and take him to the competent authority to have his case heard in the
appropriate courts. I have a great deal of respect for what they’re doing and
working on in the countries that have taken this initiative to grant the army some
kind of police function. We’re supporting the national civil police. Nevertheless,
we also have a military police unit, and if it were to become possible someday that
we would look at replicating this process underway in other countries, I think that
it would be the military police units, because they have police training. I think
that it would be very good for these military police units to have this possibility,
in order to be more efficient and be able to immediately bring someone who commits
an illicit act before the authorities, and let the authorities be the ones to judge
them according to the illicit acts they commit.

Would you like to add anything else?

Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González:

The Guatemalan Army is an army that respects the laws, that respects human
rights, and that is very conscious of the support that should be given to the civil
authorities. The army is always subordinate to political authority and is very
conscious of its constitutional obligations to support all the civil authorities and
be able to take an efficient and effective stand against organized crime as a whole,
which does so much damage to Guatemalan society, regional society, and all of
Central America, Mexico, and also here in the United States. As I repeat, it’s a
natural bridge for the entry of all kinds of illicit traffic. Our best intention is
to work together with the civil authorities in order to eradicate as far as possible
all kinds of illicit traffic that exist.