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Homicides in Guatemala: The Challenge and Lessons of Disaggregating Gang-Related and Drug Trafficking-Related Murders

United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

  • 5 April 2018
  • Posted by: Nicolas Devia
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Homicides in Guatemala: The Challenge and Lessons of Disaggregating Gang-Related and Drug Trafficking-Related Murders

Facing concerning rates of homicide in their countries, the Latin American governments often enact “mano dura” or hardline policies against violence. Those short term remedies to the homicide epidemic in the region are popular and a justification for the use of force on civilians, as well for the increased investment on the armed forces and police departments. Through a discursive process similar to the securitization, governments point the finger at a certain group to rally support for their reactive policies. In Guatemala, the executive branch has made those type of allegations targeting gangs and drug trafficking organizations. The purpose of this study is to determine if those agents are in fact the ones driving the homicide rates in the country. It is imperative to understand the dynamics of homicide to invest carefully in the sectors it is truly needed instead than on the ones that are popular. This is even more important for countries that due to their lack of economic resources need to profit the most form their investments.

In order to study the impact of the different illegal organizations in Guatemala the investigative team of InSight Crime chose two regions known by their above average rates of violence and relation to criminal organizations. Chiquimula is a largely rural border region which localization is a great asset for drug trafficking organizations that work in the country. On the other hand, “Zona 18” of Guatemala City is a densely populated area of the city that has a heavy influence of the MS-13 and 18 gangs. Dudley and his team classify the types of homicide taking into account the type of weapon used, the exposure of the corpse, the location of the crime and the reasons for it as a mean to determine the agent who carried out the attack.

For drug trafficking organizations homicides tend to be more systematic, targeting individuals that make part of rival organizations or work against the cartel. DTO’s use high caliber pistols or rifles and often displace the body to parts where its exposure is higher. Gangs on the other side use homicides to reaffirm their control of a territory and incorporate the use of sharp and blunt objects to commit crimes. In the study, to verify the idea that those organizations are the reason for an increase of violence, the investigative team compared then the types of homicides committed in the mentioned regions with the models of homicides just cited.

However, a bigger challenge was to find data on the mentioned crimes. The Guatemalan system lacks of infrastructure, budget and planning, which makes nearly impossible to use effectively the data recollected and contributes to a high rate of impunity in the country. Data comes from different institutions (Police, the department in charge of forensics and the one of statistics, the Interior ministry and the Attorney General’s office), which means that information on a same incident could differ from institution to institution. Some precincts don’t even have access to internet services, therefore sharing and cross checking information becomes a tedious and expensive endeavor.

With all those problems, the data studied shows that even when those illegal organizations have indeed an impact on violence in the regions, there is a huge gap between what the government says and what it knows. More than a half of homicides have their reasons uncertain and in Chiquimula the fight for land seems to be more relevant in violence than DTO’s themselves. While the data available makes impossible to assert that illegal organizations don’t have the kind of impact the government says they have on violence, it is also impossible to say they do drive the trend of violence.

Category:Publications
Country:United States of America
Language:English
Year:2016
Institution:United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Author:Stevien Dudley

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