Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Country Program: Guatemala
Guatemala is a major transit country for an estimated 400 metric tons per year of Colombian cocaine. It is also a producer of opium poppy – 1,345 hectares were eradicated in 2009. In the past few years the Government of Guatemala had little success in confronting the challenges posed by narcotics trafficking. The new administration replaced both high-level leadership and lower-level police and increased funding for law enforcement efforts, but corruption and intimidation continue to be major challenges. Cocaine seizures (just 7.1 metric tons in 2009) lag far behind estimated transit amounts. The weak criminal justice system in Guatemala, coupled with pervasive corruption, has made it difficult for the government to address the country’s deteriorating security situation. Given the prevailing environment of impunity, Mexican cartels have consolidated their control of trafficking routes in the northern and eastern rural areas of Guatemala.
The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) supports programs to build the investigative and operational capacity of Guatemalan law enforcement agencies to more effectively disrupt drug trafficking, trans-border crime, and illicit crop production. INL efforts support law enforcement units such as the FIAAT (a small helicopter program which began in 2008) that undertake interdiction and eradication missions, as well as a special vetted quick-reaction force assistance and anti-drug informational campaigns. Other U.S. programs support prevention efforts and special prosecutors.
Under international pressure, the Government of Guatemala approved the use of special investigative methods (including wire intercepts) that greatly improve criminal investigations, and passed a law that allows judges to reduce a criminal witness’ sentence or suspend prosecution entirely in exchange for witness cooperation. The UN-led International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) is currently investigating narcotics trafficking-related crimes, and with U.S. Government cooperation, played a huge role in the selection of the new Supreme Court and Appellate Court judges in October which was a major step forward in broader rule of law issues.
The Guatemalan Congress, with advice from the United States, the Government of Colombia and Organization of American States experts, is currently drafting a bill containing procedures to expedite the transfer of property to different Government of Guatemala agencies of assets seized in narcotics, money laundering, and other organized crime cases. The passage of this law would be an aggressive step forward in the fight against drug trafficking. Currently, criminals and traffickers are able to keep possession of profits from illegal and criminal activity.
The United States Government supported Guatemalan efforts to reorganize the National Civil Police so that all counternarcotics units will work under one Sub-Department and report directly to the Director General of the police. This unification should improve communication, coordination, and effectiveness as well as assist in anticorruption efforts.
Estimates of the number of gang members in Guatemala range up to 12,000, with the MS 13 gang predominate. Gangs have become more sophisticated in criminal enterprises in recent years, backing up extortion with violence, but also with increased organization. The Villa Nueva Model Police Precinct successfully reduced gang activity by 100 percent in 78 schools and achieved convictions in all gang-related cases that went to trial. The Government of Guatemala replicated the model in Mixco (an adjacent city to Guatemala City). Two more model precincts will be developed in the near future. The antigang unit (PANDA) was formed and, together with the Organized Crime Prosecutor’s office and the special investigation unit in charge of wire intercepts, dismantled two gang “clicas”. Currently, 22 gang members are facing trial for an array of crimes ranging from extortion to murder. The Police Collection Analysis and Dissemination Center is a vital tool in the investigative process and their analysis of cases is in high demand by the Public Ministry (Attorney General’s office).