Where’s the Money for Guatemala’s Proposed Security Reforms?

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A new report details a series of recommendations meant to reduce impunity and insecurity in Guatemala over the next decade. However, inadequate funding raises doubt over whether the proposals will actually be enacted.

On November 10, representatives from the Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies (ICEFI) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) presented their joint report “A Path to Justice” (pdf), which includes recommendations for improving security and reducing impunity in Guatemala between 2014 and 2023.

According to the report, homicide cases in 2012 had a 72 percent impunity rate (a decrease from 95 percent in 2009). And, of more than 520,000 legal cases, only 8.7 percent resulted in a sentence.

One issue identified by the report is Guatemala’s lack of police. In 2013, there were only 1.8 police officers for every 1,000 people, far below the internationally recommended standard of 4 per 1,000. As such, the report states it is necessary to deploy 40,000 more police officers (bringing the rate to 3.5 per 1,000).

Furthermore, the report calls for improving the country’s prison system, which has an overpopulation rate of 228 percent; expanding municipal prosecutor’s offices to 53 percent of municipalities; and creating an institute for victims of violence, which would provide legal aid to those who lack adequate resources. The report also recommends rectifying Guatemala’s rate of one judge per 18,400 citizens, the worst in Central America.

Carrying out the proposed judicial reform steps by 2023 is predicted to cost roughly $1.38 billion.

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Nonetheless, the report emphasizes that Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office (also known as the Public Ministry) is hampered from operating efficiently by insufficient resources. During the report’s presentation, Mayra Veliz — the Public Ministry’s secretary general — noted how that, despite Congress approving a 2015 budget of over $143 million, the Public Ministry had so far only received around $94 million of these funds. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The report speaks to the uphill struggle faced by Guatemala’s president-elect Jimmy Morales, when it comes to improving security and justice in Guatemala.

It is unclear how his administration will find the funds needed to propel the proposed reforms. In 2013, Guatemala spent 1.6 percent of its GDP on public order and security — estimated to be the lowest percentage of GDP spent in this area of all Central American countries. Yet this small slice of the government’s budget pales in comparison to the roughly 8 percent of GDP that Guatemala is is estimated to spend on violence and insecurity costs per year (roughly $7 billion). 

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In order to raise the requisite funds, Ivan Velasquez, head of the UN-backed anti-impunity body CICIG, has proposed creating a temporary tax on assets above a certain value. However, major Guatemalan business association CACIF was quick to slam Velasquez’s recommendations, saying that the country should implement a fiscal reform to avoid the supposed embezzlement of $2.6 million in government funds every year.

This echoes past talks of security taxes that never took flight, dampened by the risk of damaging relations between the government and the private business sector. Such security tax proposals have also sparked controversy with Guatemala’s Central American neighbors Nicaragua and El Salvador.

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