New Guatemalan Law Aims to Curb Spread of Private Security Firms
By Dialogo December 03, 2012
GUATEMALA CITY — For the past five years, 28-year-old Israel Castillo has stood guard outside small supermarkets and malls in Guatemala City, brandishing a .38 revolver, 12 bullets and a truncheon.
Before moving to the Guatemalan capital in 2007, Castillo had never held a firearm; he harvested coffee and maize in his hometown of Jalapa, a mountainous region 175 kilometers away.
“I don’t really like living in the city,” he said. “I grew up in the countryside so am more used to that. But I had to come here. There’s money to be made and you can always find work as a security guard. This way I can support my family better.”
Castillo’s story is typical of that of the thousands of security guards who line the entrances to fast-food restaurants, hair salons and coffee shops in Guatemala City — a reaction to the capital’s increasing crime rate, which has prompted even the smallest of businesses to seek extra protection.
Violent crime sparks demand for guards
Guatemala now ranks as one of Latin America’s most violent countries, with an average of 40 homicides a week, according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. As a result, wealthy Guatemalans and members of the business elite are hiring bodyguards, chauffeurs and domestic security to protect them from the threat of kidnapping, carjacking and extortion.
Analysts put the number of private security agents operating in Guatemala at 100,000 to 150,000 — thus outnumbering the country’s 25,000 police officers by at least four to one and accounting for 1 per cent of the population.
Up until now, it’s been almost impossible to keep track of this ever-expanding industry. as many private security firms fail to register their services. However, a law passed by Guatemala’s congress two years ago and which took effect in September aims to monitor unregistered private security companies. Its objective: to curb the number of agents working outside the law and offer existing agents better training.
Guatemala’s Ministry of Interior has set up a unit, the General Department of Private Security Services, to enforce the new rules and create a mandatory certification program that every private security agent will have to complete before working in the field.
The unit hopes to create a database of fingerprints and photographs of all security companies’ employees in order to track their movements, find out whether they have criminal records and ensure that the weapons they use are registered.
“The law was introduced because the previous regulations were out of date and weren’t responding to the necessary controls needed for these businesses, given their magnitude and the quality of their services,” says Carmen Rosa de León, director of the Training Institute for Sustainable Development [Instituto de Enseñanza para el Desarrollo Sostenible], a nonprofit organization that promotes campaigns to decrease violence and improve weapons control in Guatemala.
“There were a lot of ghost businesses in operation, and zero knowledge about whether they complied with the country’s labor rules, if they were registered, the quality of the private agents they employed and the type of weapons that they used,” she said.
Tough sanctions for companies that don’t comply
The law, which was approved after more than eight years of debate, requires security companies to register with the state and explicitly prohibits active-duty military personnel from working for private firms.
Like Castillo, many security officers working in Guatemala City migrate there from indigenous rural areas where access to education and employment is limited, because of the abundance of security jobs on offer.
Most private security companies don’t require their employees to have a high level of schooling or prior experience in the profession, so jobless people tend to flock to the capital enticed by the chance to earn a fixed salary, without the need for credentials.
But without proper training, private security agents can be a danger to society and contribute to the country’s violence rather than reduce it, said Dr. Otto Argueta, an investigator at the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies in Hamburg, Germany.
“Private security has become a labor option for a large section of society, namely displaced agricultural laborers. It works like an arms sweatshop, offering low wages, evading taxes and labor responsibilities, and contracting casual staff that lack qualifications,” he said.
Improved training makes a difference
To combat these concerns, the General Department of Private Security Services is working to standardize the quality and labor rights of agents and ensure they have undergone rigorous training. So far, the unit has organized uniform training courses at the National Civil Police Academy in Guatemala City for instructors who will then deliver that same level of training to agents.
Rafael Donis, the new agency’s director, said the training is also complemented by a course on teaching methods at the Training and Productivity Institute [Instituto de Capacitación y Productividad, or INTECAP].
Other initiatives to ensure that the new law is properly implemented include banning former members of the security forces who were dishonorably discharged or fired from becoming private security agents. It also calls for strictly punishing any businesses that fail to comply within an allotted time period.
“Although it has only recently been created, [the department] has done good work establishing the database of the businesses, spreading the law and the rules and updating the register,” de León said. “For it to work it will require the willingness of all involved.”
Good I find the article referring to security companies here in Chile formidable, I think the police in charge with the fiscal aspect of those famous security companies should do the same; there are many anomalies and abuse, especially when small companies go against the GG.SS.(security guards). O.S.10 Carabineers should maintain a strict control in order to avoid many incidents. Sincerely, I am from Guatemala, here violence is intolerable
they shoot you simply for taking your cell phone out of the pocket, and they kill you for Q100, which is around $13 Hello, I would like to work for your company The common gangs and delinquents exist because our justice regime is poor and weak, from the police to the government officials, surely there are exceptions, but the majority wins.
The citizens don't do anything, we just stay there watching as the problems come and go because of the same situation, because we turn in a delinquent and soon after he is released, and then he comes looking for you...well, you know what happens.