Latin America's Drug Wars
|Martin Barillas||December 15th 2008|
Cutting Edge Senior Contributor
|Guatemalan Police Strike Force|
Guatemala’s director of the National Civilian Police force, Marlene Blanco Lapola, informed that nation’s congress on December 9 that more than 2,000 automatic weapons have disappeared from her inventory, including AK-47 assault rifles and Israeli-made Uzi machine guns. Upon questioning by legislators, Director Blanco could not answer just how many weapons are missing and said that an inventory is ongoing. She affirmed, however, that some of the missing weapons already have been used in crimes.
“We have received reports from commissariats that weapons are missing. In other cases, these have left our warehouses, but we do not know who took nor with whose permission, since the signatures left in the registers are illegible.” She added that a judge is known to bear a police-issued Uzi submachine gun, while it is not clear how he obtained it.
Blanco has been criticized by Guatemala’s congress and other observers for alleged corruption and mismanagement in her institution. In her appearance before Congress, Blanco recognized that most of the 5,150-plus murders that occurred in Guatemala in 2008 were committed with firearms. While there are 300,000 registered weapons in the country, some estimated the total number of weapons in the country at one million.
Much like her Mexican counterparts, Blanco concedes that her agency is outgunned in the face of violence unleashed by narcotraffickers. Drug gangs have more weapons of greater firepower than her agency. “We do not have sufficient arms or agents,” said Blanco, and added,“To date, since September, eight agents have died because they did not have bullet-resistant vests. This is part of the minimum equipment that they should have.” Blanco has been Guatemala’s top police official since the end of September 2008 and has introduced innovations such as telephone hotlines for citizens to denounce police corruption, and has uncovered problems such as faulty equipment, unpaid salaries, and unpaid utility bills for her agency.
Human rights activists in Guatemala worry that bumbling by the police force will only strengthen the hand of the country’s military, which has long been besmirched by findings of genocide, torture, murder, and other assaults on human rights.
Another issue before the country’s law enforcement and judicial system is the apparent impunity of the perpetrators of violent tortures and murder of women and young people. Since the year 2000, more than 3000 Guatemalan women have been brutally murdered. Often the bodies show signs of torture and mutilation. Guatemalan authorities have apparently failed to respond to this crisis and fewer than two percent of such cases result in conviction. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women declared in 2005 that “Violence against women is met with impunity as authorities fail to investigate cases, and prosecute and punish perpetrators. In this regard, the absence of a rule of law fosters a continuum of violent acts against women, including murder, rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation. Security and justice institutions have not responded adequately, particularly by failing to solve a recent series of brutal murders of women.”
In the town of San Pedro Soloma, in the mountainous region of Huehuetenango, a 5,000-strong mob apparently lynched five presumed criminals at a soccer field. According to reports, the five had abducted a girl, thereby enraging local residents. The lynch mob arose on the evening of December 9, and the alleged abductors were shot and their bodies burned by enraged neighbors. The mob then descended on several houses supposedly involved in the girl’s kidnapping, burned them too.
Kidnapping has become endemic in the area, which is largely populated by aboriginal Maya-speaking peoples. Reports have been made of roadblocks erected to stop travellers. Those who could not satisfy the vigilantes as to their identity were detained. Mob violence adds to the troubles of the Guatemala, which faces a growing influx of Mexican drug cartels as well as local gangs such as the infamous Mara Salvatrucha.
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent Martin Barillas is the editor of www.speroforum.com.