Can New York Mayor Giuliani Save Guatemala?

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Fifteen years ago, a European diplomat said that Guatemala was “over-diagnosed.” Everyone knew what needed to be done. The problem was that nobody was doing it. 

This year, at Guatemala’s national business meeting (known as Enade), think-tank the Guatemala Development Foundation (Fundesa) proposed applying the strategies that had saved New York from its 1990s crime wave to Guatemala. The proposal, which involves cooperation between the private sector, civil society, and the government, is generating skepticism in some and optimism in others.

On October 9, an investigator in the anti-extortion division of the National Civil Police (PNC) carried the Guatemalan flag in the opening ceremony for Enade’s 2014 meeting. The theme was “citizen security and the culture of co-existence.” Four months ago, this agent and two others had been shot when they tried to arrest members of an extortion gang in San Jose Pinula. The guest of honor at the event was Rudolph Giuliani, former federal prosecutor (1981-1983) and ex-mayor of New York (1994-2001). He is a well-known figure who knows the value of police work in combating crime and who, as a prosecutor, dismantled some of the strongest mafia structures that extorted thousands of businesses in New York.

The city’s 57 percent reduction in crime has been widely attributed to Giuliani’s leadership as mayor. Although some analysts believe other demographic and economic factors apart from Giuliani led to this reduction, this year Fundesa hired him to help the Guatemalan government in reducing insecurity and poverty in the country, a plan seven years in the making.

This is the first part of an article which originally appeared in Plaza Publica and was translated, edited, and reprinted with permission. See Spanish original here.

In New York, Giuliani financed a larger police force and security prevention programs, and turned the fiscal deficit into a surplus, via measures that would make some in Guatemala nervous: he eliminated 23 taxes, which saved businesses and individuals some $9 million, according to New York municipal budgets from 1994 to 2002. These funds didn’t return to the Treasury. But at the same time, Giuliani created an initiative that allowed for the reincorporation of 640,000 New Yorkers — who were on social welfare programs for unemployment — into the labor market. He also slashed 20,000 municipal jobs (or 20 percent, not counting police officers and teachers). These two measures allowed the city to regain the lost tax revenue and reorient security spending.

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Giuliani’s Strategy in other Countries

Giuliani’s strategy was replicated in at least 20 US cities, as well as Mexico City in 2003. Mexican magazine Proceso wrote that “when Giuliani assisted [Mexico City’s] city government, the average annual number of crimes committed was 24,368, according to official figures. Ten years later, the crime rate had been reduced by 20 percent, according to the Citizen Council on Public Security.”

Proceso reported that Giuliani’s assistance lasted for one and a half years, and cost $4 million, which was paid for by local authorities and businesses in Mexico City (led by Carlos Slim, according to some publications). The US think-tank the Woodrow Wilson Center (WWC) documented that Giuliani’s hiring was also supported by the then-Secretary of Public Security, Marcelo Ebrard, to begin police reform efforts.

In 2009, the Woodrow Wilson Center observed that while New York’s success was bolstered by the modernization of the COMPSTAT system (Comprehensive Computer Statistics), which offered “block by block” statistics on crime fighting, Mexico City developed the Police Information System (SIP). But it was not made public, which impeded the generation of data-collecting information that would have permitted civil society to evaluate police work.

In Guatemala, there is fear that a “zero tolerance” policy for minor crimes would be an unfortunate choice in countries with a history of repression.

The Woodrow Wilson Center emphasized that the crime rate was reduced “systematically” between 2003 and 2006 in Mexico’s Federal District (DF), according to statistics from the DF’s Attorney General’s Office. Nevertheless, it noted that “the number of reports to the Public Ministry” made by the police was insufficient to “evaluate the local preventative policies.” In addition, the Woodrow Wilson Center revealed that the DF Human Rights Commission made recommendations on “torture cases or comparable cases to physical torture” to the city secretary of public security (SSPDF) that were rejected, and therefore the project was unable to complete its goal of “severely sanctioning” the police who were involved in these cases.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Police Reform

The Woodrow Wilson Center also concluded that “the 146 recommendations contained in the Giuliani report for the SSPDF are reproductions of the zero tolerance model (for minor crimes) applied in New York without taking into account the complexity of the environment in which the police of the SSPDC were operating in.”

In 2011 in Colombia, Giuliani assisted Gina Parody, a mayoral candidate in Bogota. Parody lost the election, but he has served as the Minister of Education since August 2013 in the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos. In 2013, Giuliani met with Santos after his re-election. Some analysts like Juan Carlos Garzon, investigator at the Center of Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, and Farid Benavides, professor at the University of the Andes, saw this meeting as a bad omen since Giuliani’s strategy is unpopular in Colombia among some sectors. 

As is currently feared by some in Guatemala, Garzon and Benavides agreed that a “zero tolerance” policy for minor crimes implies a tense relationship between police and citizens, and could increase police abuse (as evidenced in Mexico’s case). These Colombian analysts believe Giuliani’s strategy undermines the goal of generating confidence between authorities and communities, in order to increase security. In addition, they noted that the reduction of violence in Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, had more to do with trends at a national level than a particular strategy, as in New York’s case. Other analysts from the Javeriana University in Colombia and the University of Reading in England agree with this assessment.

The Guatemalan Case

In Guatemala, as in Colombia, there is fear that a “zero tolerance” policy for minor crimes (which in New York resulted in the arrest of window-washers in the streets) would be an unfortunate choice in countries with a history of repression, according to Emerson Rodriguez, an analyst at the Learning Institute for Sustainable Development (IEPADES), and Helen Mack, director of the Myrna Mack Foundation.

Guatemala’s private sector paid around $160,000 “plus taxes and travel fares,” to finance Giuliani’s assistance.

Nevertheless, between April and October 2013, Giuliani, his business Giuliani Partners LLC, and Fundesa, studied the implementation of a similar strategy to the one employed in New York, adapted to Guatemala’s needs — and with fixed goals for 2021 — in partnership with the government. Giuliani presented his recommendations at the Enade meeting. It was the first time that a guest at this event was also assisting in a long-term project in the country, according to Juan Carlos Zapata, executive director of Fundesa. The private sector paid around $160,000 “plus taxes and travel fares,” to finance Giuliani’s assistance “for a specified time, at least for now,” Zapata revealed.

“We are also hiring Giuliani to participate in an accompanying process of reform in the PNC and work with Adela de Torrebiarte [the country’s police reform commissioner]; she has been in direct contact with Giuliani’s team,” Zapata said in October. The objective is “to generate short-term and medium-term indicators, which the police and other judicial and security institutions can follow, in order to have a strategic plan with a responsive capacity, and generate reliable indicators through a complaint system, instead of beginning several different actions.” This is the process Giuliani led in New York 20 years ago with the COMPSTAT.

In an event at the Youth Peace Association in Guatemala last September, Torrebiarte said that the PNC “is conducting crime prevention programs in institutions and schools, and has created a practical guide to involve the communities, so that police agents are more accessible, closer, and more trusted.” Nevertheless, this vision could conflict with a security policy that has a high potential to increase friction with the police, especially if there are increased arrests as a result of the zero tolerance policy for minor crimes. The objective also includes eliminating the sales and services of street vendors on public roads.

The historical, political, and economic contexts separate Guatemala City from New York more than the 5,420 kilometers in geographical distance between the two places.

Torrebiarte and Giuliani agree, for example, in making the professionalization of the police a priority and paying them adequately. Guatemala’s president Otto Perez Molina approved the Enade initiative. During the event, the president said that “everything that works towards peace and security in Guatemala is welcome,” referring to the businesses leaders and Giuliani. In the following days, the Interior Minster, Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, seemed less enthusiastic, saying that what Giuliani is proposing has already been done in Guatemala, and that there is no money to increase police salaries.

Nevertheless, on November 13, Lopez Bonilla highlighted the advances in the professionalization of the national police, and signed an agreement to create the Coalition for Citizen Security between the government, the private sector, and civil society, as agreed upon at Enade 2014. Lopez Bonilla said that the coalition, which is attempting to unify efforts to reduce crime, is an important public-private alliance designed to support and supervise security projects

The Big Differences

Giuliani recognized that “what worked in New York may not work in Guatemala.”

Giuliani recognized (in an October 8 press conference) that “what worked in New York may not work in Guatemala.” The historical, political, and economic contexts separate Guatemala City from New York more than the 5,420 kilometers in geographical distance between the two places. The New York when Giuliani was mayor had 8 million inhabitants and close to 40,000 police officers. When he left office, there were 500 police officers for every 100,000 residents (the UN recommends at least 250 police for every 100,000 inhabitants). The homicide rate was reduced from 26 to just 8 murders per 100,000 residents (although the figures began to decline in 1990, four years before Giuliani was mayor).

In contrast, today Guatemala has 15 million residents, and 205 police for every 100,000 residents (in total, 31,686 police officers), and 34 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.


The differences between New York (the city) and Guatemala (the country) are many, but the principal points of the plan are the same: to move from a reactive to preventative security strategy.


In 2010, the PNC attributed the majority of homicides to extortion cases, when the homicide rate began to drop. The figure continued falling under the current administration, although it rose 2 percent last year. In 2012, Lopez Bonilla attributed half of the homicides to gangs. In 2013, extortion rates were the only type of crime that increased from the previous year (2.4 percent, with an average of 5 cases per day), according to the Public Ministry [as the Attorney General’s Office is known in Guatemala] and the PNC, although extortion was not included in the top ten most frequent crimes reported. A police source stated that just 10 percent of extortion cases are perpetrated by gangs, although the Interior Ministry said that 74 criminal groups have been dismantled since 2011.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

The differences between New York (the city) and Guatemala (the country) are many, but the principal points of the plan are the same: to move from a reactive to preventative security strategy by strengthening institutions and citizen participation, among other approaches. Some analysts, like the sociologists Hector Rosada and Mack — who is also the former commissioner for police reform —  believe that the plan will run up against a complex reality distinct from that of New York (as occurred in Mexico, according to the Woodrow Wilson Center).

Why Giuliani and Why Security Now?

The subject of citizen security at Enade is both strategic and relevant, according to Zapata: the idea is to create a plan to reduce violence by redirecting resources towards prevention, education, and job creation, as was done in New York under the Giuliani administration.

Fundesa also wants to follow up on the 2009 Enade meeting, which dealt with security and justice. That year, Fundesa presented a proposal with four objectives: 1) A push to strengthen legislation on the prosecution, arrest, and sentencing of criminals, the reconstruction of the regulatory framework of the national police, and the classification of crimes such as illicit enrichmen, influence-peddling, and corruption; 2) the evaluation of setbacks and advances in crime-fighting policies; 3) making development a focus in reintegration and crime prevention, not just a focus on punishment; 4) promoting more civil society participation in order to achieve higher levels of security and justice in Guatemala. Fundesa reassessed these objectives in Enade 2014.

The 2009 Enade meeting coincided with the biggest increase in Guatemala’s homicide rate, according to Rodriguez, the analyst. There is no way to measure the concrete effects of the Enade. But Rodriguez explained that if Guatemala experienced a drop in violence in 2010, it was because President Alvaro Colom’s government employed an effective combination of social programs (even though these were imperfect, lacking in transparency, and heavily criticized) with a more reactive and preventative approach to security.

*This is the first part of an article which originally appeared in Plaza Publica and was translated and reprinted with permission. See Spanish original here.

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