Homicide scene in Guatemala

Homicides in Guatemala decreased for the third year in a row in 2012, according to police figures, giving the country its least violent year since 2004.

Despite a slight increase in violence in November and December, in 2012 Guatemala's murders decreased for the third consecutive year, falling to to 5,174 in 2012, reported Reuters. This represents a decrease of 8.9 percent from the previous year and is the lowest total since 2004 when 4,507 murders were registered. The number of homicides peaked in 2009 at 6,498.

While Guatemala's murder rate per 100,000 is now down from 39 in 2011 to roughly 35 in 2012, it remains one of the highest in the world.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Vice Minister of the Interior, Arkel Benitez, told Reuters that the drop in violence can be attributed to the government's focus on reducing violent crime. President Otto Perez has credited law enforcement special task forces he established after taking office in January 2012, which focus on specific crimes such as femicide, car theft, and kidnapping.

There are several possible explanations for why violence has fallen after peaking in 2009. The trend of declining violence began under former President Alvaro Colom. His attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, who President Perez has kept on, has been very aggressive in tackling organized crime; she recently announced that impunity for homicide cases has dropped from 95 percent in 2009 to 70 percent in 2012. Similarly, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) -- a United Nations-mandated judicial body -- has made progress over the past five years in repairing Guatemala's broken justice system and fighting impunity. In addition to these institutional improvements, Central American Politics points out that the number of extrajudicial killings by police and other vigilante groups has declined.

While the downward trend in violence is encouraging, Guatemala still faces plenty of obstacles. The government has recruited more police and created elite units like the special task forces, but efforts at major police reform have stalled. The country's importance as a transit point for cocaine moving north to the US market and the entrenched presence of violent criminal groups mean that organized crime will continue to present a serious challenge to public security in Guatemala.

Despite the overall drop in homicides, certain regions have experienced an increase in violence. The murder rate declined in Guatemala Department, where the national capital is based, as well as the departments of Alta Verapaz and Peten, where the government declared "states of siege" in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The southeastern department of Zacapa -- which borders Honduras and is considered an important transit point for drug shipments -- remains Guatemala's most dangerous department. Along with Esquintla and Santa Rosa departments in the south, Zacapa experienced the biggest increase in homicide rates last year.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...