Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 332 | Marzo 2009



Narco-Business: A “New War”

President Álvaro Colom has been visibly surprised at the exponential growth of drug trafficking throughout the country. Narco-business is triggering a “new war” with thousands of victims. It is also leading Guatemala into a dangerous institutional atrophy and boosting impunity by nourishing a nest of vipers in the state.

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

When setting out to analyze Álvaro Colom’s first year in government, one must keep the global crisis in mind. It’s already playing a role that the government has only a limited capacity to counteract.

More deportees, fewer remittances

The recession in the United States (two quarters in a row with negative GNP growth rates, the last of which was approximately -6%) has already had serious consequences for Guatemala. As they cross Mexico on their way to the United States, Guatemalans are suffering increased harassment from the mafias dedicated to extorting and kidnapping migrants, which are associates of the “coyotes” who lead the migrants on their exodus.

In 2008, 28,051 Guatemalans were deported from the United States. In the first two months of 2009 another 3,345 were deported by air alone. If this trend doesn’t change, more than 32,000 will be deported during 2009. On the other hand, there’s been a reduction of those deported from Mexico by land, which could mean that fewer Guatemalans are undertaking the journey to the United States.

The hardest thing is that the possibility of finding work in the United States has noticeably diminished. The international press showed photos of Latinos shoveling snow during the March storm after being out of work for two weeks. And during Christmas, relatives of Central American migrants who went to visit them saw groups of Latinos huddled on the street corners of US cities, waiting in vain all day without getting hired.

All this has meant a drop in remittances from emigrants in 2008; down by 8% in El Salvador and 12% in Guatemala. For the first time since remittances have been recorded, they were down in January 2009 from the same time last year not only in the number being sent but also in their total value: from US$315 million in January 2008 to US$290 million in January 2009, a 7.7% decrease. Although not yet a catastrophe, it’s a powerful indicator of what could come, taking into account that remittances more than doubled between 2003 and 2008: from just over US$ 2.1 billion to more than $4.3 billion.

Sweatshops closing,
the quetzal devalueds

The layoffs in the sweatshops producing clothing for re-export (known as maquilas) are another significant sign of the crisis. Those who work in the maquilas represent 14.6% of the employed work force in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In Guatemala, Koramsa, the biggest maquila in Central America, closed down with the loss of 21,000 jobs. It was bought by a company from Texas that covers the entire production chain from planting the cotton to placing the finished garments in shopping malls.

The quetzal has been devalued from 7.4 to 8 to the dollar, the greatest fall since 2004. This probably happened because the huge stimulus packages for the US economy have caused many dollars to fly back home like the “migrant capital” they are. Of course this devaluation will seriously increase the cost of imports and reduce that of exports. Coffee and sugar exports have already experienced considerable reductions.

Despite all this, the banks in Guatemala have yet to show signs of shakiness, even though the financial speculation by some of them in tax havens already caused them to fall in previous years. The most emblematic case was Banco de Café in 2006.

All engines are affected

What effect will all these crisis factors have on Guatemala’s per-capita gross domestic product? One alert economic analyst offered these considerations: “The annual growth rates will fall enough to make per-capita GDP decrease. If the growth rate isn’t above 3-4%, superior to the population growth rate, a decline in the ability to buy the basic basket of goods will immediately follow. Twenty maquilas are closing their doors, 300,000 agricultural jobs are being lost and there’s a big drop in tourism. All our national revenue-generating engines are affected.”

The UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has predicted that consolidated GDP for Mexico and Central America will drop between 0.9% and 2.2%. The highest annual growth rate Guatemala has ever had—and it was not sustainable—was 4.5%, so for the economist’s prediction not to come true, it would have to be countered by an extraordinary stimulus to the economy.

Develop an internal market?

The same analyst thinks that the only “counter-cyclical” structural measure that might offset the recessive descent of the current globalized economy in Guatemala and hence give the country a chance to start sorting things out would be “the development of a domestic market, a concept that hasn’t excited much interest up to now,” except in peasant cultivation of vegetables, fruits and flowers for export. Guatemala’s ruling class has typically not viewed policies to increase the buying power of the poor to be in its own interest.

“Various lines would define this domestic market: cultivating food by means of agreements with cooperatives and creating infrastructure in three areas: that needed by socially cohesive operations; the highway network with itineraries and interconnecting networks, which assumes a different sort of public investment and changes in the national energy matrix: electricity generation by sugar refineries, hydroelectric plants, thermoelectric plants that run on coal…” Some of these projects would cause other problems that must be considered such as, for example, consulting communities that might be or feel affected. “All this could at least compensate for the losses, if not substitute them,” says the analyst, “and as chance would have it, this government has managed to get Congress to legislate a budget that would allow it to implement this shift.”

With relative balance

The analyst goes on: “The first year of Colom’s government gave him a stable balance of payments in the second half of 2008, which naturally presumes macroeconomic stability. But this balance of payments was achieved by a bit of a fluke, thanks to the reduction in oil and food prices. An inflation rate of over 15% sustained over three months would have pushed 700,000 people into poverty. Another stroke of luck has been the social cohesion measures that have to be implemented to counter the crisis, even if they’re based on handouts.”

If cheap subsidized grains continue to be imported through the free trade agreement, it could seriously affect national producers, but it would mean that people in urban areas could eat more cheaply.

Who’s governing?

It’s said that the Colom government’s social democracy has ended up in the hands of his wife, Sandra Torres, and her sister, Gloria Torres. Sandra Torres is president of the Social Cabinet—dubbed “social cohesion”—even though that post would normally be held by Colom’s Vice President, the well-known cardiologist Rafael Espada, who has long experience in the United States. Gloria Torres acts as liaison in organizing how the government awards projects. Even given the unofficial nature of her post, its enormous importance and influence are obvious.

Reflecting this situation, people see Colom as a President who’s still campaigning; he talks a lot but hasn’t started governing yet. They see him as inspired by his social democratic pathos; he’s not a bit reticent to affiliate Guatemala to Venezuela’s Latin American Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA) or to visit Cuba to decorate Fidel Castro “en absentia” (Fidel didn’t receive him), but at the moment of action he’s perceived as yielding to the projects and dictates of his wife and the rest of his political family. As with all caricatures, this is partly true and partly exaggeration, but there’s a danger that Colom will give words the same weight as deeds and try to make the Guatemala of his dreams come alive.

Fiscal reform is Colom’s great failure

In its first year Álvaro Colom’s government was unable to nail down the legislative agreement he needs for the fiscal reform, above all a serious income tax reform that might at last increase the annual tax burden to 12% of the GDP, one of the aims of the 1996 Peace Accords. In Chile it’s 18% and in the United States 20%. Achieving this aim would make Guatemala a socially strong state with a government able to act like a social democracy, a model Colom used to define his objectives. It would mean a socially effective and efficient democracy that would prioritize structural responses to the population’s economic rights.

In a recent United Nations Development Programme study on democracy in Latin America, a majority of the population surveyed (54.7%), when given the choice of a democratic government unable to resolve economic problems and help people out of poverty or a dictatorial and authoritarian government that resolves these needs, clearly opted for the latter. Necessity makes people understandably short-sighted, shrinking their horizons. Ineffective social democracy sparks people’s mistrust of politics. It’s akin to what happens with revolutionary systems that lose their original search for justice and turn into corrupt family despots with revolutionary slogans lacking any real content. The profound disillusionment this awakens also fuels people’s cynicism regarding the possibility of change.

Congress approved the first overall reading of the fiscal reform, but there’s still a tough stretch from there to reaching the final vote on each point of the legislation. Behind the apparent inability to arrive at a truly new tax agreement in Guatemala, or to stick to it, which was the problem in 2004, is the armor plate of CACIF, the main umbrella organization of Guatemalan private enterprise, and of other bodies such as the Chamber of ommerce, which disagree with CACIF over some clauses of the free trade agreement.

Whatever doesn’t
get done this year…

The second year of Colom’s government, which started in January of this year, is its last chance to reach a fiscal agreement that might help shrink the enormous gap in equality within Guatemalan society. In Guatemala what doesn’t get done in the first year of government, or at the very latest the second year, simply just doesn’t get done. The third year politicians turn to making party alliances, nominating presidential candidates for the next period and raising the funds crucial to the election campaign. The fourth year is taken up with the election campaign itself, which though it officially doesn’t start until May or June, unofficially occupies public civic spaces, the media and especially the imagination of both politicians and people throughout the year.

There are exceptions, the most important example being the law that allowed the UN to set up a commission called the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The Myna Mack Foundation and then-Vice President Eduardo Stein lobbied for the law for two years and it was finally pushed through Congress in August 2007, just a month and a half before the presidential elections.

At least one positive sign is encouraging an attempt to overcome the obstacles to private enterprise’s inclination to avoid paying not only more taxes, but even existing ones. This sign is the leveling of the minimum wage between city and countryside. It could signal coming negotiations to ensure that what has been approved is actually observed.

Without creative continuity

Álvaro Colom’s election was symbolically very significant, mainly for the fact that his opponent wasn’t elected. Colom ran against Otto Pérez Molina of the Patriot Party, a retired military officer who had played an active part in planning and executing the repressive “scorched earth” strategies during the armed internal conflict. He was also a member of military intelligence during that bloody period, and paradoxically an active member in the talks and negotiations that led to the drafting of the peace Accords, in keeping with the motto of by-then deceased General Gramajo that “politics is the continuation of war by other means.” Colom’s election was also symbolic because for the first time in Guatemala’s modern electoral history the key to his victory was the electorate not in the capital but in almost all the rest of the country.

President Colom could have made history by ceasing to pay party debts in shaping his Cabinet and instead choosing the best, for example keeping officials such as Gert Rosenthal, former President Berger’s foreign relations minister, or Adela Camacho de Torrebiarte, the minister of government, both with great capacity. Rosenthal has a lot of experience with UN organizations and those of Central American Integration while Camacho showed strength of decision when she purged the National Civil Police. But Colom didn’t do it.

Security “with intelligence”
or increased insecurity?

President Colom has been unable to lay the foundations for his idea of “security with intelligence” which he came up with to counter the “hard fist” proposed by his opponent during the campaign. Instead of keeping Camacho as government minister, he named Vinicio Gómez, deputy security minister in the previous government, who tried to continue cleaning up the police and improving the quality of criminal investigation. But Gómez died in a plane crash on June 27, 2008, apparently due to atmospheric conditions, and Colom named Francisco Jiménez to succeed him. Jiménez had already worked with Camacho as general director of civil intelligence and continued in that function under Gómez. But in early January of this year, coinciding with the tough questioning of Jiménez by the Congress about the terrible 2008 crime figures, President Colom transferred him to a Technical Security Secretariat chaired by the Security Council that advises the President, replacing him as government minister with Salvador Gándara.

What’s behind the change?

Gándara casts a long shadow: he’s famed for belonging to the illegal “vigilante” and “social cleansing” associations. He’s also affiliated to the “Church” of pastor Cash Luna, which may not necessarily be an obstacle to judging him, but is nonetheless significant.

What’s behind the change decided on by Colom? It would seem to be that Jiménez isn’t a man of action, but a doctor in philosophy, a good intellectual and quite a good investigator in the security field, and that Gándara is a man of action rather than a thinker, a good executive.

Guatemala finished last year with a homicide and murder figure exceeding 6,000, nearly 1,000 over 2007. The Episcopal Conference, in its most important annual meeting (January 2009), demanded that the government apply effective actions against violence. Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, the archbishop of Guatemala, then called for a march against violence in Constitution Plaza, which is flanked by the Cathedral and the National Palace of Culture. He led it with the human rights ombudsperson, the rector of the National University of San Carlos and the president of the Evangelical Alliance. The plaza was full to overflowing.

In a November 2008 analysis titled “Instability and loss of governance in the security sector in the framework of a ‘new war’ in Guatemala,” the Myrna Mack Foundation stated that former Government Minister Jiménez officially reported to the Guatemala Forum in November 2008 that “in the past five-year period there has been an annual average of 46 fatalities for every 100,000 inhabitants,” just in the capital. Naturally, the continuation of these averages or their growth exercises enormous pressure on any ruler. From there it’s only one step to the conclusion that Colon needed to put a person of action at the helm of the Ministry of Government.

Gándara was already deputy minister in the Arzú government and served two terms as mayor of Villanueva, an enormous municipal conglomerate on the southern edge of the capital. He has conducted some drastic actions there, but the violence hasn’t diminished. Our analyst poses this question: “If Gándara is more a man of action than of thought, who’s doing the thinking about what he should be implementing?”

The advance of Narco-business

The truth is that President Colom has appeared surprised by an exponential growth of drug trafficking in Guatemala, with its aftermath of violent crime. This is obviously a consequence of the military campaign against the diverse drug cartels conducted in Mexico by the Calderón government, supported by the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

Beset along the northern border and the Gulf coast, the Mexican drug lords are increasing their interests on the southern border, in western and northwestern Guatemala and through the Caribbean Bay of Amatique, in the north and east. They are literally invading the country. To this is added the presence in the south of speedboats and even ships with drugs and people—Chinese, Indians, Ecuadorians and others—heading to the United States who are treated like human merchandise.

In “Gomorra” (2008), a hair-raising, super-funded and literarily excellent documentary report of a field investigation about the Naples mafia, popularly known as “la Camorra” and internally known as “the System,” its author Roberto Saviano defines the illicit drug business as a modern and therefore globalizing “economic empire” that employs extremist capitalist logic, with no legal stops on it. It is a genuine assault on the market and on power, supported by the information of capitalist Mafioso colleagues around the world, even though they are also engaged in ferocious competition with them.

Former Vice President Eduardo Stein had dared to speak of the Guatemalan Congress as a “nest of worms,” when its commission gave the bill to permit the CICIG a negative report, a situation that sparked its fast-track approval in the plenary late in the election campaign. Several times Stein also spoke of organized crime’s aim to infiltrate the Guatemalan state through getting candidates sold out to narco business and other prohibited trafficking positioned in popularly elected posts.

The domestic market for drugs

Guatemala is no longer just a place for the occasional patch of marihuana or poppies, nor is it any longer just a corridor for transporting drugs along sea coasts and land border posts. It’s also a domestic market for habitual drug use among people with high incomes and for occasional use, especially among the youth.

This business produces previously unimaginable income for those who sign up for it, mainly young people from marginal neighborhoods, whether gang members or not. All originally independent prohibited trafficking now linked to narco business—arms trafficking, contraband, illegal adoptions, etc.—is also very profitable. According to some reports, this feeds a market in money laundering, perhaps no longer invested in construction in the capital but in cattle in departments in the western area, thus paradoxically helping keep the prices of the animals stable.

The “new war”
of narco businesses

The presence of this whole network has triggered terrible cases of bloody collective violence, in some ways similar to the massacres of the times of the armed internal conflict, to which we were by now unaccustomed. The following are listed in the analysis of the Myrna Mack Foundation:

- The “narco killing” (Zacapa, March 2008), where a number of members of Mexican and Guatemalan drug trafficking were shot or burned to death.
- The attack and incineration of a bus (Zacapa, November 2008), where 165 Nicaraguans and 1 Dutch person lost their lives.
- The “narco massacre” (Santa Ana Huista, Huehuetenango, November 2008), in which an undetermined number of members of drug trafficking in Mexico and Guatemala and various innocent people died.
The report adds other mutually related events against a backdrop that links them to organized crime:
- The unresolved killing and incineration of three Salvadoran representatives to Parlacen [the Central American Parliament]—Eduardo D’Aubuisson, William Pichinte and José Ramón González—and their pilot Gerardo Ramírez (February 2007).
- The execution of PNC criminal investigation agents, captured for their responsibility in the killing of the Salvadoran legislators (February 2007). They were killed in an as yet not clarified action when they were under state custody in the El Boquerón jail.
- The murder of Commissioner Víctor Rivera, chief of the PNC anti-kidnapping unit, who had collaborated closely with the Public Ministry to clear up these cases (April 2008).
- The murder of prosecuting aide Juan Carlos Martínez (July 2008), who was involved in the investigation of these cases.
- The October 2008 killing in the Santa Teresa prison of a woman recently taken into state custody for allegedly trying to encourage the flight of some mara members accused of having killed Víctor Rivera.
- The coordinated killing of the warden and a guard of the Santa Teresa women’s prison (October 2008) a few days after the above woman was killed.
The killing and decapitation of several prisoners during a riot in the Pavoncito penitentiary (October 2008). Among the victims were two gang members recently transferred from El Boquerón to Pavoncito for fear they would escape. They had been tried for their presumed responsibility in the killing of the police agents from the Víctor Rivera case and were linked directly and indirectly to the murders in Santa Teresa.

The analysts write: “We are again at ‘war’ in Guatemala. It’s not a war like those that international law recognizes, nor is it a confrontation of the kind that affected us for a good part of the past century. It is a ‘new war’ in which business reigns, and its profile is transnational and globalized…. It is already generating damages of a great magnitude and number, which range from thousands of deaths per year to institutional depravation and atrophy, passing through alterations in the community social fabric and in the population’s mental health.”

Between publicity and clandestinity

During the armed internal conflict, there was no reporting of the brutal acts of violence systematically committed by the army and the multiple police forces of that time; life in the capital went on behind a curtain of silence. Today, the violence of narco business and the rest of organized crime is public and is reported every day. One hears about the cartels of Alta Verapaz, the South, Zacapa in the west and Izabal in the north. And there’s speculation about links with the Mexican cartels of Sinaloa, Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez and the Gulf.

The criminal capital, the enormous capital of the capos and their “families” as well as the small capital of the maras, enjoy the publicity from their actions and take pride in them. Those who attempt to stay between clandestinity and the rumor of fame are the legislators linked to the prohibited trafficking, such as former legislator Manuel Castillo, the famous cacique of Jutiapa, known as “Manolillo,” who is now out of Congress and in prison for his alleged links to the brains behind the killing of the Salvadoran Parlacen members and of some police accused of having committed the crime.

With respect to the crime of the Parlacen representatives—an attempt was made to sweep their secrets under the rug in El Salvador so they wouldn’t interfere in the presidential election at the time—a journalist from Guatemala’s El Periódico presented doubts that all is resolved by the involvement of former Salvadoran legislator Carlos Roberto Silva who, to take revenge on the ARENA legislators who stripped him of his immunity, had assigned Castillo to plan the crime’s execution.

In a March 1 text, this journalist finished opening a Pandora’s box by asserting that Luis Mendizábal, the old head of “La Oficinita”—where the scenarios to cover up responsibilities for crimes were designed during the armed conflict—is again an “eminence gris” as President Colom’s most trusted adviser. True or false?

A state infiltrated by criminal interests

There are unquestionable indications of incrusted powerful interests within the state that are working against its effectiveness in the struggle against big globalized national criminal capital.

The Myrna Mack Foundation’s security analysis states: “Since 1999 a bill to control weapons and munitions has existed within the Congress whose debate and approval process has been continually obstructed. Legislators have said that arms and munitions dealers pressure them constantly. Luis Enrique Mendoza, who is one of them, even unhesitatingly took advantage of his position as a legislator and president of the Government Commission to change the bill, adjusting it to the interests of the arms dealers and the army. The army urgently needs a good law on the subject, but to obtain it, it will first be necessary to combat the dance of spurious and avaricious interests that has so far impeded its approval.”

The National Civil Police has made
progress but does it have a plan?

Similarly, governmental accord legislation for new National Civil Police (PNC) regulations has been held up in the Presidency’s General Secretariat for months. What interests are responsible for this delay? It’s evident that between April 2007, when Adela Camacho was named minister of government, and January 2009, when Francisco Jiménez was removed from the same post, progress was made in cleaning out the PNC, an Inspector General’s Office of the PNC was created, plans were drawn up to increase the PNC from 18,000 to 30,000 officers and create more and better academic centers to train recruits and officers, an increased number of “express” kidnappings were solved and more in-depth investigations of homicides, including feminicides, got underway.

The appointment of Marlene Blanco as police chief and of the first PNC inspector general as her deputy chief are good signs. Blanco is the sister of Orlando Blanco, who heads the State Human Rights Defense Commission. Nonetheless, President Colom sent Congress a budget in which the line for security was not increased, while the army’s budget line was. This led the Myrna Mack Foundation to wonder whether or not there’s any meshing between the well-aimed but still superficial progress and a more structurally rooted plan.

Will private enterprise choose to cooperate in buttressing the country’s security? Perhaps. At the end of the day, the legitimate private sector has no interests in the private security or arms dealing firms, and it’s experiencing unfair competition from the criminal capitalists.

President Colom admits
there was “genocide”

President Colom has played an important role with respect to the army. A month and a half after his inauguration, Colom attended the annual anniversary celebration of the report “Guatemala: Memoria del Silencio,” written by the Historical Clarification Commission. It was the first time since President Arzú initiated the practice 10 years ago. And he asked for forgiveness for the crimes committed by the state. Colom also attended the 10th anniversary of the National Day of Dignifying the Victims, on February 25. And again he asked for pardon.

These were some of the President’s words: “If genocide is the intent to totally or partially destroy a national, ethnic, racial, religious or political group, there was genocide in Guatemala; there was ethnocide and there was also the systematic destruction of religious, political, social, university and indigenous leaders.... Let’s hope that today, on this day to commemorate the victims, we can initiate an effort to organize the country for the unity of Guatemala.”

The forgiveness speech

The Association for the Advance of the Social Sciences in Guatemala (AVANCSO) made the following comment: “Many Guatemalan men and women are optimistic about what was enunciated in this speech, but what ‘s behind it, what actions are being implemented for the rights to memory, justice and the collective rights of peoples? Are they two different logics or apparently distinct actions of a single logic of dominant rationality?”

It went on to enumerate more than a few repressive interventions by the security forces (PNC+army) against indigenous collectives, one of which left one person dead and four wounded. Its commentary ends as follows: “The analysis must start with the ways, procedures and techniques deployed to govern the conduct, the bodies, the ideas and the thinking of people, organizations and society as a whole…. The social dynamic of this historical moment in the country situates us before an institutional, political, technical and economic framework in which speeches of pardon, development and an attack on poverty, and the actions that systematically repress the struggles for human rights, rights to memory and to justice, the right to land and the rights of indigenous peoples are different sides of the same coin, of the institutional rationality of capital and domination.”

“Lost” military archives

On February 25, 2008, President Colom asked the army to hand over its secret archives, among them those from the time of the armed internal conflict referring to the offensive strategies against the guerrilla movement and the civilian population that supported it (Civil Population in Resistance) or the surrounded population: concretely Plans “Victoria 82,” “Sofía 82,” “Ixil 82” and “Firmeza 83.”

The defense minister took refuge in the Constitutionality Court, alleging that these were “state secrets” whose publication is prohibited by the Constitution. The court denied the appeal on March 28 of the same year, but the minister and the rest of the top command continued stalling. Finally, President Colom sent the whole top command into retirement (the minister, the head and deputy head of the joint chiefs, and the army inspector general) and promoted other officers into these posts.

In early March of this year, the new defense minister, General Abraham Valenzuela, handed two of the four plans over to the President. He did not submit “Ixil 82” and “Sofía 82,” which are the ones that, according to Prensa Libre, “presumably involved General Efraín Ríos Montt in massacres” and “are apparently lost.” This loss, which President Colom didn’t accept and ordered their recovery, is very important. General Ríos Montt is one of the joint chiefs of that period and is on trial in Guatemala and Spain for crimes against humanity, genocide among them.

Include the army
in security issues?

In his inaugural speech Colom announced that he proposed to correct the error of the three previous Presidents of having reduced army personnel and their presence on the bases and barracks in many areas of the country. He explained that he considered it inevitable to continue counting on the army’s accompaniment of the PNC in security tasks. Without the army, he said, it would be impossible to return security to the citizenry.

Our alert analyst agrees with President Colom on this issue. “Our ‘furuncle’ is citizen security. The spread of drug trafficking to Guatemala, the change here in the political economy of drug trafficking (from hangars or warehouses to the promotion of drug use through in-kind payment) implies a real loss of territory, impossible to recover without the army, and in a space in which we totally depend on the United States.”

President Colom increased the army’s 2009 budget and is now reopening army detachments in places as symbolic as Playa Grande, Ixcán and Quiché, places where their departure was joyously celebrated but which are now besieged by drug traffickers.

This situation poses the problem of whether a military strategy indeed could resolve the challenge represented by organized crime’s economic empire, one of whose branches is the drug business and another arms trafficking. Over US$9000 million has reportedly been invested in the PNC between 1985 and now, which only began to be effectively useful in the three years of the Arzú administration following the signing of the peace accords (1997-2000). Nonetheless, the interruption in the PNC’s training, renovation and purging during President Portillo’s term (2000-2004) appears to have set back such an important investment.

A military campaign with an army in which the ravaged pulses of the 200,000 victims of the internal armed conflict still beat and that obstinately refuses to recognize its responsibility, ask forgiveness for it or even accept that at least some of its responsible military chiefs must appear before the courts is not a trustworthy instrument in the struggle against organized crime and its economic empire. The example of Mexico teaches us to what extremes of criminal nonsense a military option to do away with the drug business can lead.

If the army is used...

If, despite everything, the army has to be used to prevent the emergency from growing even greater, the Myrna Mack Foundation thinks the following very important criteria must be included in a mixed security plan:

“-The army’s participation must be viewed as support to the PNC. In no way must it be thought of as “a substitute” for the civil police with its military doctrine and practice.
-A clear definition of time, functional and operational limits of that support, as well as of the scope of the military mission in this field.
-A determination of the responsibility, missions, time line and geographic locations in which the military support will be provided.
-The strategy regarding military participation must respond to parameters established by the civil authority, whose decisions must also grow out of the orders about missions, responsibility and places of action. It would not be acceptable for the military themselves to define what missions they will have, how and for how long. These decisions must be made exclusively by a civilian command, coming from the civilian entities responsible for security.”

Safeguarding the borders is crucial

Concretizing the criteria of “temporal, functional and operational limits,” the army’s participation in security must comply with the limits imposed by the Constitution and should focus primarily on custody and safeguarding of the country’s geographic borders against that thousand-headed enemy called organized crime. That requires the construction of access infrastructure, roads and highways that permit a reasonable encirclement of the innumerable river and mountain passes, to make penetration into the country difficult for that enemy. It must also include a fleet of speedboats and another of helicopters, which would be used with absolute specialization and strict regulations to conduct surveillance of land and sea borders. All this action will be impractical if it is not done in an effective alliance with the border police, coast guards and air space guards of Mexico, Honduras and Salvador first, and also those of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.

Legalize drugs?

Without an in-depth development plan that doesn’t leave aside the border and coastal departments, not much progress will be made. The war on poverty, fulfillment of the Millennium Objectives and the struggle against organized crime can travel the same roads.

In many of the places where they operate, the drug traffickers appear not as the unscrupulous criminals they are, not as capitalists with no legal hobbles, but as generous postmodern bandits who create a source of life for a number of people and are seen by the youth as mythic popular heroes. To better understand this dimension of the challenge, Saviano’s book is useful. A government with authentic social democracy is a good antidote to the attractive glitter of the drug business.

Guatemala should reflect with other states about the opportunity to legalize drugs or some of them, studying the experience of Holland and thinking with a long view to avoid getting trapped or bogged down in this struggle. The experience of the strongest power of the North, which has been unable to uproot drugs from its territory despite so many “czars” and DEA agents dedicated to fighting it should give our governments pause.

A nest of vipers

The problem of organized crime and of its economic empire isn’t just a national one; it’s global, and it needs to be combated globally. We in Guatemala need a global alliance to fight the habits of corrupt impunity in which justice, particularly judges and the Public Ministry, is immersed. This is what the previous government wanted to do when, in one of its most rational decisions, it requested assistance from the United Nations, and got the Congress to approve the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in August 2007.

Nonetheless, CICIG is encountering a powerful blockade in the whole apparatus of justice. It has done investigations and as a result of them has, for example, asked the Public Ministry to dismiss some of its prosecuting attorneys. One concrete case was that of Alvaro Vinicio Matus, the attorney in charge of crimes against life. Prosecutor General Amílcar Velásquez, elected in 2008 after his predecessor was obliged to resign, in part due to influence by CICIG, tried to cooperate with it but nearly all his prosecuting attorneys, men and women alike, rebelled. The pressure forced him to investigate Matus for two minor offenses of falsification of documents rather than for obstruction of justice or conspiracy to obstruct it, which were what CICIG had discovered.

If a prosecuting attorney for crimes against life is the same person working to obstruct justice, the “furuncle” of insecurity in Guatemala wouldn’t be only that. It would be a vial of venom poisoning one of the institutions responsible for moving Guatemala toward a rule of law.

If the Guatemalan state can’t get one of its crucial institutions to cooperate with CICIG, it means it’s much more infiltrated than one might have thought; some of its institutions are truly the “worm nests” that former Vice President Stein was talking about. We could also think of a state whose institutionality is closer to a “snake nest” waiting to ambush society than to a set of structures managed by people in search of the common good.

Juan Hernández Pico, sj, is the envío correspondent in Guatemala.

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Before the Night Gets Much Darker…


Blow by Blow, Step by Step, The Global Crisis Is Hitting Us Hard

Looking at the Ruins of a Defiled Electoral Process

Narco-Business: A “New War”

Zelaya’s Final Year Is Off to a Bad Start

The Crisis of Religion In Christianity
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