Guatemala Calls on US to Resume Military Aid

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The Guatemalan defense minister says his goverment has fulfilled the necessary obligations for the US to lift its ban on military aid to the country, but President Otto Perez’s recent support for drug legalization may make American lawmakers less willing to do so.

Speaking to media during a visit to Washington DC, Guatemalan Defense Minister Ulises Noe Anzueto (shown with President Perez in the photo) said, “We have complied with the declassification of military archives, we have included the issue of human rights in our military academies, and we have (addressed) the remaining concerns there were about this issue.”

The United States Congress halted all military aid to Guatemala in 1990 as a result of the atrocities committed by the country’s armed forces during its civil war. The restrictions were relaxed to a degree in 2007, with the purchase of helicopters for the Guatemala Air Force, as long as they were intended to be used to fight drug trafficking.

Anzueto, who is on a five-day trip to Washington, said of his visit: “That is the mission of this visit … to show our transparency and willingness to work in the area of regional security,” particularly against drug trafficking. Given Guatemala’s successful completion of its obligations, Anzueto added that it is his belief that the only obstacle remaining to the restoration of aid is the lack of political will in Congress.

In separate events, Perez, speaking before business representatives at the 30th Expocomer International Trade Fair in Panama, invited the business community to join the debate on whether a new approach to the drug war is needed, stating that methods other than military efforts may provide more success, reports Prensa Libre.

InSight Crime Analysis

Since his inauguration on January 14, the message coming from President Perez’s government over how to combat drug trafficking in Guatemala has been somewhat mixed. On the one hand, Perez, who was elected on the platform of imposing a “mano dura” (iron first) approach to crime, called on the Guatemalan military to “neutralize organized crime” just one day after taking office.

In contrast, Perez has also become one of the region’s biggest advocates for opening regional dialogue on drug legalization, despite a lukewarm response from other Central American leaders, and an outright rejection from the US.

This seems at odds with Anzueto’s emphasis on cooperation, raising questions over whether Perez’s position could damage the country’s attempt to have military aid restored.

However, in light of the less than enthusiastic response to his decriminalization proposals, Perez, who is set on creating a regional stance on the issue, seems to be tempering his position. As analyst James Bosworth notes, Perez has lowered expectations and is now moving toward the coordination of a strategy on drug policy ahead of an upcoming meeting between Central American leaders this weekend, realizing that obtaining a regional consensus on decriminalization is unlikely.

Furthermore, Perez’s legalization stance may have the indirect effect of actually encouraging the US to quicken the return of military aid. Given Guatemala’s status as a key trafficking route for narcotics on their way to the US, and the well documented incursion by the Mexican Zetas drug gang (See Part I, II, and III of InSight Crime’s Zetas in Guatemala report), the US may fear that Perez’s position could result in a relaxation of counter-trafficking efforts by the Guatemalan government. The US would likely want to counter this by increasing aid in an effort to appease Perez and his Defense Ministry.

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