Guatemala’s Top Prosecutor Talks Successful Tactics

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Guatemala’s widely-praised attorney general says her office is now focused on breaking up criminal networks rather than just solving individual crimes, and that the strategy is paying off.

Claudia Paz y Paz spoke to elPeriodico at the midpoint of her four-year term. She said that as head of the Public Ministry, she helped implement a new investigative approach which has saved some 500 lives.

According to Paz, in 2012 the ministry began emphasizing the investigation of wider criminal networks, instead of focusing on individual criminals. This led the ministry to target neighborhoods where street gangs the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 are active, resulting in the capture of some 300 alleged members of these two groups, Paz said. 

Paz also praised several attempts to attack the finances of Guatemala’s criminal organizations. She pointed to the Asset Confiscation Law, passed the day before she came to office in December 2010, which has allowed her office to seize some 150 million quetzales ($19 million). She said that the law not only facilitates the seizure of assets from criminals, but allows these assets to be funnelled back into the fight against crime, specifically into the units which prosecute organized crime, trafficking, and money laundering.

InSight Crime Analysis

Guatemala has seen some significant improvements. Its murder rate is on the decline, with 2012 the least violent year since 2004, according to official figures, giving it a rate of some 35 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Paz’s tactics have been given substantial credit for this decrease in violence, and indeed she recently announced that the rate of impunity in murder cases had gone dropped to 70 percent, compared to 95 percent in 2009.

The efforts to battle the finances of organized criminal groups may prove crucial for further security improvements as Guatemala moves forward, as Paz highlighted in her interview. The country’s anti-money laundering measures have been criticized for their weakness, with no state body having the legal tools to fully investigate suspicious transactions.

In order to intensify Guatemala’s fight against money laundering, Paz said that the Public Ministry would quadruple the number of financial auditors who work for the office. Another success cited by Paz, the Law Against Illicit Enrichment, may also prove crucial for Guatemala’s future improvements in security, if it is indeed enforced. The anti-corruption measure, passed by Congress in October, imposes tougher punishments for corrupt politicians. 

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