A group of armed men killed at least seven people after storming one of Guatemala's largest hospitals to free a prisoner transferred there for an appointment, an event that could help garner increased public support for tougher anti-gang policies in the country.
On August 16, several alleged members of the MS13 street gang entered the Roosevelt Hospital -- one of the country's largest -- to try to free fellow gang member Anderson Daniel Cabrera Cifuentes, Prensa Libre reported.
Seven people were killed in the attack, including two prison guards, two hospital workers, two children and one other victim. Twelve others were wounded.
Cabrera Cifuentes, who managed to escape during the attack, had been in jail since 2013 for various murders and other crimes. He had been transferred to the hospital from the Fraijanes 2 maximum security prison to receive a blood test prior to an upcoming operation, Nómada reported.
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Roosevelt Hospital Director Carlos Soto told Prensa Libre that the hospital will no longer allow prisoners to be treated there after the assault, feelings other hospitals in the country have since echoed.
After a hospital attack in 2016 left one inmate dead, prisoners can only be transferred to a hospital for treatment by a judge's order. However, Guatemala's Interior Ministry announced that before a judge's order, the National Institute of Forensic Sciences (Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses - INACIF) will now have to authorize the transfer of prisoners to hospitals for treatment, according to a press release.
Guatemalan police forces arrested five of the suspected gunmen as they attempted to flee the hospital, recovering three assault rifles and a submachine gun, according to Prensa Libre.
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The sensational and deadly events at the hospital could boost public backing for hard-line anti-gang measures, which have often proven counterproductive elsewhere in the region in the past. Indeed, after the attack, Guatemala's congress proposed an "anti-terrorism" law that would classify as terrorists those who carry out similar violent attacks. The law resembles a similar measure approved last year in El Salvador that classified the country's gangs as terrorist organizations.
The hospital attack and the government's response will likely shift the public's focus away from deep and long-standing problems with corruption in the Central American nation onto the country's gangs. Although gangs clearly pose a significant threat to security in Guatemala, many forms of serious criminality have also been tied to high-level corruption.
The recent incident at the hospital could provide a justification for authorities to shift attention and resources away from anti-graft efforts, which have been attacked on numerous fronts by various powerful interests. In fact, Guatemala President Jimmy Morales has advocated for more heavy-handed security measures and recently refused to publicly support anti-graft efforts by the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG).