Guatemala Extends Use of Military in Policing Role

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Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has announced the military will continue supporting police in a domestic security role, extending a controversial stopgap measure seen elsewhere in the region that is frequently accompanied by human rights concerns.

According to elPeriódico, the decision to maintain the military’s support of the Guatemalan police (Policía Nacional Civil – PNC) was made during a recent meeting of Morales’ security council.

Morales had previously said that the military would be gradually removed from joint-force programs with the police during the second half of 2016, but has now reversed that position. “We have come to the decision that the PNC’s ability to function exclusively is still insufficient,” Morales said.

Commissioner for police reform Aldea de Torrebiarte supported the president’s decision, echoing Morales’ statements that the PNC is not yet ready to act without the military’s support despite recent increases in police numbers, reported elPeriódico.

However, Helen Mack, a former commissioner for police reform, said joint military-police structures should disappear. She said the military continues civilian functions because the PNC pays for the military’s work.

Instead of combating crime, Mack said, the military presence has resulted in a “balloon effect,” simply pushing criminality to places with less security force pressure. According to elPeriódico, Mack said efforts to improve criminal investigation — not the military’s involvement in policing functions — is responsible for recent progress dismantling extortion rings and other criminal groups. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Morales’ announcement came a day after he presided over a controversial July 3 military parade to commemorate Army Day. The parade was held at a military base after public backlash forced Morales to backtrack on his intent to return the parade to the streets of Guatemala City, where it has not been held since 2008 in deference to the victims of Guatemala’s civil war (1960-1996).

As an institution, the Guatemalan military is viewed with deep distrust among Guatemala’s large indigenous population for killing tens of thousands of Mayans during the war — an occurrence frequently labeled genocide, although Morales avoided using the term during his July 3 remarks.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles 

Nonetheless, the militarization of domestic security has become common practice for Guatemala’s neighbors — particularly El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras — where police forces are viewed as too corrupt or incapable of confronting widespread criminality and violence. The use of soldiers as police in these countries, however, has contributed to an increase in human rights abuses, including the use of excessive force and extrajudicial killings.

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