Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Pulling Guatemala Back from the Brink

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on August 2, 2011

by Latintelligence, August 2nd, 2011.

The conventional Guatemalan security story is one of a country riddled with violence, where law enforcement institutions are in shambles and corruption reaches the highest levels of government. Its homicide rate triples that of Mexico, and its notoriously weak rule of law system lets more than 99 percent of criminals walk free. The growing presence of Mexican and Colombian cartels, pushed out of their home countries due to intensive antidrug campaigns, has only made matters worse. As the Zetas in particular move into the northern provinces, observers sound alarm bells about Guatemala’s possible descent into a “narco-state”.

Still, it may be too early to give up on Guatemala. Since the capture of top drug-smuggler Juan Alberto Ortiz-López, alias ‘el Chamalé’, in late March of this year, Guatemalan officials have arrested a number of local gang leaders, some with close ties to the Zetas. Within days of folk singer Facundo Cabral’s murder this month, the authorities announced the arrest of three suspects, presenting a slideshow with a play-by-play rundown of the events.  The swift response became a point of pride for Guatemalans accustomed to sluggish, if any, justice.

The UN International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) can take much of the credit for these improvements. Set up in 2007, the commission has been an enormous boost to law enforcement’s (still limited) capacity; assisting in high-profile investigations and promoting important reforms, notably witness protection and plea bargaining laws. It works in conjunction with domestic security agencies, employing a “learning by doing” model that teaches investigative methods to Guatemalan prosecutors on the job. Not least of all, CICIG played an instrumental role in the appointment of current Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, who has had a markedly positive impact on the public prosecutor’s office. (continue reading… )

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