ANCLAS Honours student Luci Foote-Short recently spent research time in Guatemala. Her blunt assessment is that the country faces some very significant challenges.
Guatemala is considered lower middle income by the World Bank, which presents an image of modest hope for Guatemala. This is incorrect. Guatemala is facing problems so severe that moving towards a better future is going to take huge amount of work.
Like most of Latin America, Guatemala has high inequality and social division. A small group of elites control the country, like they did during the civil war, only now it is under a façade of democracy. Democracy has not been consolidated in Guatemala, whilst competitive party elections are held every four years the result means little for Guatemalans. Corruption is widespread and widely acknowledged. The Vice President Roxanna Baldetti recently announced that 11 arrest warrants would be issued to members of the previous government, which was led by Álvaro Colom. A lack of electoral campaign reform has meant that campaigns finances are unregulated and funded by business elites and drug trade organisations at the local and national level. There is no sense that the government is a mechanism for representation in Guatemala.
The National Civil Police force (PNC) is believed to be rotten with corruption, lacking resources to fight crime and an income high enough to prevent grafts. They are unable and in some cases unwilling to protect is citizens. Reforms demanded in the Peace Accords in 1996, which transitioned Guatemala to democracy have not been correctly carried out. The PNC worked as section of the military during the civil war, instituting terror as a mechanism for control, conducting massacres, tortures and social cleansing. Poorly organised retraining and recruitment, after the end of the war means that many involved in the violence are now charged with preventing it, and they are failing. The Minister of the Interior, Mauricio López Bonilla, announced that the government is to purchase weapons for the PNC, who have a deficit of 250,000 weapons according to the government. One young man in Guatemala City told me – “if there is a robber in your house, it is better to tell the police that you have shot him and could they please come and take away the body, rather than ask for help”. The PNC lacks the capacity to fight narcotrafficking, which is becoming an increasingly apparent problem in Guatemala. And internal security is again become part of the Guatemalan Army’s role, deploying Special Forces or Kaibiles, to fight narcotrafficking. The Kabilies committed extreme atrocities during the civil war, and are trained in combat, rather than civilian and state defence, but they are the only resource Guatemala has to fight the narcotraffickers.
The US refuses to provide military aid until those responsible for Human Rights violations that occurred during the civil war are bought to justice. But with an impunity rate measured at 98% by the UN’s special Guatemalan Mission, justice is hard to come by and any widespread investigation into crimes committed during the war, of which the state is responsible for 93%, would fracture the entire system. Which according to a journalist I spoke to, is entirely based on impunity, obvious in the fact that the current President Otto Peréz Molina is suspected of committing such abuses during the war.