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Crime in Guatemala

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Title: Crime in Guatemala  
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Subject: Law enforcement in Guatemala, Illegal drug trade in Guatemala, Crime in North America, Koreans in Guatemala, Crime in Paraguay
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Crime in Guatemala

Young gang recruits in Guatemala

Rates of crime in Guatemala are very high. An average of 25 murders per week were reported in 2009, making the country's violent crime rate one of the highest in Latin America.[1] In the 1990s Guatemala had four cities feature in Latin America's top ten cities by murder rate: Escuintla (165 per 100,000), Izabal (127), Santa Rosa Cuilapa (111) and Guatemala City (101).[2] According to New Yorker magazine, in 2009, fewer civilians were reported killed in the war zone of Iraq than were shot, stabbed, or beaten to death in Guatemala, and 97% of homicides "remain unsolved."[3] Much of the violent nature of Guatemalan society stems back to a thirty-year long civil war. However, not only has violence maintained its presence in the post-war context of the country following the Guatemalan Civil War, but it has extended to broader social and economic forms of violence.[4]

Effects of the Guatemalan Civil War

The Guatemalan Civil War began in 1960 between the government and leftist actors, and it resulted in over 200,000 deaths.[5] Sources cite the history of conflict in Guatemala as rendering communities accustomed to violence today, and the extension of incompetent or corrupt state institutions facilitates the impunity associated with such violence.[6] During the civil war, the country witnessed a “generalized fear shaped by state terror and institutional violence.”[7]

Violence against indigenous

Most civil war victims were Maya whose deaths were not reported to Ladino audiences via newspapers. Many of these deaths came in brutal fashions like rapes, forced abortions, and burnings.[8] Sexual violence was strategically employed by state officials as a genocidal weapon against indigenous women. The distrust of indigenous still permeates Guatemalan culture today.[9]

Violence against students

The fear of students by government takes much history into account. It was students who led the revolution in 1944 that instituted the only ten years of democracy in the twentieth century that Guatemala experienced.[10] One school, the University of San Carlos, the state viewed with particular distrust during the civil war, because the revolutionary government during democratic period of 1944-1954 had reserved it complete autonomy.[10] After the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, a majority of the 8,000 San Carlos students possessed leftist views in line with the outgoing government. Therefore, throughout the subsequent civil war, the state placed an emphasis on repressing, often disappearing, students of San Carlos.[10]


The high rate of murder has been blamed on "a highly powerful criminal cartel", made up of politically connected retired military officers and linking with drug traffickers and other criminals. Following the end of [3]

Some high profile murders revealed or suspected to be the work of the cartel include that of Catholic Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera, beaten to death in 1998, two days after the conclusion of an inquiry he had led into the violence of the civil war.[5] The inquiry had blamed the Guatemalan army for 90% of the war's 200,000 killings.[5] Gerardi also found links between the military and the illegal drug trade in Guatemala, providing an additional motivation.[5] In 1997 a large group of active military figures, including the deputy Minister of Defense, were found to be involved with the Colombian Cali cartel's smuggling efforts.[5]

Khalil Musa, a wealthy Lebanese immigrant businessman, and his daughter Marjorie Musa, were shot and killed in April 2009.[3] Khalil Musa reportedly knew president Álvaro Colom, an advisor of whom told an American journalist that, “if the Musas could be killed, there was a sense that anyone [in Guatemala] could be.”[3]

Drug trafficking

Guatemala finds itself located in the middle of the drug supply from South America and drug demand in the United States.[6] Guatemala links Honduras and Mexico along common drug routes between Central America and the United States. Its long, un-patrolled coastline and sparse jungles make it a popular landing point for boats and planes carrying drugs from South America, while its borders are understaffed and ill-equipped to fully exert customs controls.[11]

Greater regional efforts to crack down on narcotics trade has merely diverted the transport routes and methods used. According to the International Crisis Group, Guatemala had been “a primary landing zone for narcotics-laden flights” until U.S.-supported interdiction efforts disrupted illegal flight shipments and forced traffickers to use land routes instead.[11] From 2006, Mexico’s crackdown on drug trafficking pushed cartel operations to import cocaine through Central America instead,[12] and a majority of cocaine departing South America now travels through the northern regions of Central America to reach U.S. markets.[11]

The lack of effective law enforcement following the 2009 coup also contributed to the growth of narcotics smuggling. The post-coup regime kept a majority of Guatemalan security forces in the capital, leaving regional law enforcement under-supported.[11] Wealthy traffickers often assume the role of de facto authorities in such areas.[11]

Human trafficking

Like other Central American countries, the closeness of Guatemala to the United States provides a natural route for [13]


Street gangs

Young males ages 15 to 24 characterize the typical perpetrators of street crime, which is committed against individuals of the same age group.[6] Like most post-war societies, Guatemala features a very young population and higher propensity for youth violence. Youth transitions in a post-war context often become harder due to lack of funding for public education, and in the case of Guatemala, the civil war not only transferred public education funds to military expenditures, but schools and students were specifically targeted by military forces.[14] Two key youth street gangs that operate in Guatemala and other Central American countries are the Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street gang.[6] Many other gangs exist however, and in fact, by just 1997 the Prensa Libre reported the presence of 53 known gangs operating just within the capitol, Guatemala City.[4] The recent proliferation of such gangs began with the mass deportations of Los Angeles criminals to Central America, particularly El Salvador, in the mid-1990s.[6] In 2011, UNODC reported that Guatemala had the highest number of gang members in Central America with 32,000.[6]

The economic struggles of the country fuel participation in street violence as well. UN reports have found that in Guatemala and the other northern nations of Central America, ”stark wealth disparities provide criminals with both a justification and an opportunity for their activities.”[6] In addition to poverty, youth in Guatemala are compelled to join gangs by fierce peer pressure, reasons of support for those with broken families, and the allure of an illicit lifestyle.[6] The cultural difference between gangs and the rest of society and the overall intimidation of the gang image offers them considerable power. Therefore, individual gang members receive increased [6]

Violence against women

Today, femicide is quite common in Guatemala.[8] Women are killed at rates today in Guatemala comparable to that of the peak violent period of the civil war. From the years 2000-2010 the country saw over five thousand murders of women and girls.[8] Femicide to an extent is a function of a historical gendered violence that the state and society permitted legally and socially throughout the 20th century. Most femicides go unsolved, showing the continuation of civil war societal features like impunity and the normalization of violence against women.[8] Common crime violence has exacerbated the situation for women, creating a dual upsurge in both of gender-based violence and femicide in Guatemala. According to the UN, two women are murdered on average each day in Guatemala.[7] As shown by high rates of domestic abuse, females also face more vulnerabilities of private violence while young males are threatened more by public gang violence.[4] In just the first month of 2005, Guatemala City alone received 13,700 reports of family violence.[9] Furthermore, many women Guatemalan immigrants to the U.S. will still face threatening situations if they are deported to their home country.[7]


While youth in Guatemala represent key actors of increasing violence in the country, they also remain among the most effected by the consequences of a violent society.[4] Children commonly migrate to the United States, often to reunite with family, and to flee conditions related to crime like societal violence, abuse in the home, and social exclusion.[15] The year of 2014 saw a surge in numbers of unaccompanied children migrants from Central America, predicted to reach 70,000 and resulting in the [15] Violent actors included drug cartels, gangs, and State sponsored actors. Additionally, twenty-three percent of the Guatemalan children interviewed noted that they had survived domestic violence by their parents or guardians.[15]

See also


  1. ^ "Guatemala: Country-Specific Information". U.S. Department of State (November 23, 2009). Accessed January 18, 2009.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain..
  2. ^ WC Prillaman (2003), "Crime, democracy, and development in Latin America," Policy Papers on the Americas
  3. ^ a b c d e A Murder Foretold, Unravelling the ultimate political conspiracy. by David Grann. 2011 April 04
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Winton, A (2005). "Youth, gangs and violence: Analysing the social and spatial mobility of young people in Guatemala City". Children's Geographies 3 (2): 167–184. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Arana, Ana, "The New Battle for Central America", Foreign Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 6 (Nov. - Dec., 2001), pp. 88-101
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bruneau, Thomas (2014). "Pandillas and Security in Central America". Latin America Research Review 49 (2): 152–172. 
  7. ^ a b c Menjivar, Cecilia (2014). "Thinking about Violence". Society 51 (4): 401–403. 
  8. ^ a b c d Carey, David; Torres, M.G. (2010). "PRECURSORS TO FEMICIDE: Guatemalan Women in a Vortex of Violence". Latin American Research Review 45 (3): 142–164. 
  9. ^ a b Fregoso, Rosa Linda (2010). Terrorizing women: feminicide in the Américas. Durham: Duke University Press. 
  10. ^ a b c Vrana, Heather (2012). "Revolutionary Transubstantiation in 'The Republic of Students". Radical History Review 114: 66–90. 
  11. ^ a b c d e International Crisis Group. "Corridor of Violence: The Guatemala-Honduras Border". 4 June 2014. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  12. ^ International Crisis Group. "Guatemala: Drug Trafficking and Violence", 11 October 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
  13. ^ a b "Trafficking in Persons Report 2014". U.S. Department of State Diplomacy in Action. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  14. ^ Kurtenbach, Sabine (2014). "Postwar Violence in Guatemala: A Mirror of the Relationship between Youth and Adult Society". International Journal of Conflict and Violence 8 (1): 119–133. 
  15. ^ a b c "Children on the Run: Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection". UNHCR. 2014. 
  16. ^ Gordon, Ian. "70,000 Kids Will Show Up Alone at Our Border This Year. What Happens to Them?". Mother Jones. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
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