Guatemala’s New President Orders Army to Combat Drug Gangs

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The newly-inaugurated president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, issued an order for the army to join the country’s authorities in the battle against drug gangs.

Elected in November last year on a platform that saw him promise to impose a “mano dura” (iron fist) approach to crime, Perez Molina called on the Guatemalan military to “neutralize organized crime,” just one day after his inauguration on Saturday, reported the BBC.

Perez Molina, a retired army general and the first military figure to be elected since Guatemala’s return to democracy in 1985, also called on the help of Mexico and the US to combat narco-trafficking in the Central American state.

Violence has been on the rise in Guatemala, with Mexican cartels in particular seizing large areas of land in the north of the country and infiltrating the police as they push production and trafficking operations south. According to a recent United Nations (UN) global report on homicide, Guatemala’s current homicide rate currently stands at 41 murders per 100,000 inhabitants a year.

As an indication of the increasing levels of violence, Guatemalan Congressman Valentin Leal Caal was assassinated along with his brother prior to Saturday’s inauguration. He had been a representative for the troubled northern region of Alto Verapaz where Guatemalan authorities are encountering increasing numbers of members from the Zetas drug gang.

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

InSight Crime Analysis

President Perez Molina’s call on the armed forces to intervene marks a paradigmatic shift in Guatemala’s battle with both domestic and international drug gangs. Unlike a reactionary instigation of a state of emergency, where the army would only be sent in temporarily, this is a blanket move that seeks to replicate tactics seen in Mexico and Honduras and that were heavily implemented during the tenure of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

In an interview with Guatemalan news site Plaza Publica last year, Perez Molina openly stated his admiration for Uribe’s policies and announced he would like a presidency similar to his when he oversaw significant security improvements during his time as Colombia’s head-of-state.

The move also panders to the US with whom the new president is seeking to restore military aid ties that were eliminated in 1978 during Guatemala’s civil war. As it did with Colombia over the last decade and is doing now with Mexico, it would not be surprising to see the US join Perez Molina’s drug fight and increase military aid to that country.

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