Guatemala to Invest $28 Million in Arming Police

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Guatemala has announced plans to buy 33,000 weapons for its police force of 25,000 officers, despite the army having a surplus of weapons that have often made their way into the hands of criminal groups.

The $28.3 million investment will see the purchasing of 25,000 pistols and 8,000 rifles and sub-machineguns, aimed at making sure every officer always has access to a weapon. There are currently 6,000 officers without access to an assigned firearm, reported La Nacion.

The purchase has caused controversy because it avoided the usual bidding process.

Lopez said the unusual nature of the procurement was legal according to Guatemala’s law of purchase because it was in the national interest, reported Siglo 21.

InSight Crime Analysis

These figures raise puzzling questions. Namely, if Guatemala’s army had a registered surplus of seven firearms for every soldier in 2010, as highlighted by a Wilson Center report last April, how does its police force have a 25 percent shortage? Guatemala has so many surplus arms — thought to be partly a result of the country’s decades-long civil war — that the US State Department has funded arms destruction in the country. While many of them may be obselete or in poor condition, couldn’t some of them be used by the National Civil Police(PNC)?

Also worth noting is the serious issue Guatemala has had with security force weapons ending up in the hands of illegal armed groups. It has been estimated that as many as 27,000 arms from Guatemalan military stockpiles may have been illegally stolen or sold over the years, despite the military’s reputation for being less corrupt than the police. Meanwhile Guatemala had the highest average number of homicides by firearms in Central America between 2004 and 2010. Police corruption in Guatemala is endemic and the subject of reform efforts from President Otto Perez. Over 200 officers were purged from the PNC last year, while earlier this year plans were announced to put officers under surveillance by placing security cameras in police cars.

Foreign illegal armed groups, especially Mexican cartels, maintain a heavy presence in the country as they seek to control the estimated 80 percent of cocaine shipments between South America and the US which pass through Central America. These groups have also collaborated with Guatemala’s domestic gangs, amplifying the PNC’s operational problems.

[See InSight Crime’s special series on the Zetas in Guatemala]

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