Report Analyzes Guatemala’s Shaky Murder Data, Urges Improvements

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A new report examines official homicide data in Guatemala, and echoes the findings of an extensive investigation by InSight Crime that showed accurate and reliable statistics on murders in the country are seriously lacking.

Like InSight Crime’s investigation, the recent study produced by the Guatemalan non-profit group Diálogos drew from Guatemalan police reports. The document states that 2,236 homicides were recorded during the first six months this year, meaning the country’s murder rate decreased from 28 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants to 26 per 100,000 in comparison to the same period in 2016.

A geographic breakdown of the murders, however, shows important disparities between Guatemalan departments. Eight saw their homicide rates increase, sometimes in significant proportions. The eastern department of Zacapa, for instance, saw its murder rate rise from less than 29 per 100,000 inhabitants to more than 40 homicides per 100,000.

Meanwhile, at least seven departments’ murder rate was under 10 per 100,000. And more than a third of municipalities did not report a single homicide between January and June this year.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Homicides

Interestingly, the department of San Marcos appears among the seven departments with the lowest homicide rate, despite its location along the border with Mexico and its status as an opium poppy cultivation cultivation hub, which has sparked conflicts between communities and spurred the government to declare a state of emergency in certain municipalities earlier this year.

Contacted by InSight Crime, the report’s author Evelyn Espinoza explained this seeming contradiction by noting that “in general, in Guatemala the departments with a majority of indigeneous population [as is the case in San Marcos] have the lowest homicide rates.”

“Poppy cultivation has represented a source of income for that population,” Epinoza said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens now that the government intervened and destroyed cultivations in various fields.”

The Diálogos report also found that victims of homicides were overwhelmingly male, accounting for around 86 percent of the total — a figure that changed little since last year. Young people were also disproportionately represented, with victims between 21 and 30 years old acounting for a third of total victims.

In addition, the document indicates that more than three-quarters of the murders in the study sample were committed with a firearm, a figure that matches Guatemalan police’s estimate that 81 percent of homicides committed over the past 18 years have been carried out with firearms, according to an earlier report by Diálogos.

InSight Crime Analysis

An InSight Crime investigation published earlier this year found that the ability of Guatemalan institutions to properly track and analyze data about homicides was severely flawed — “less CSI and more creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucracy.”

Officials often blame gangs and organized crime for the majority of murders that occur in the country, but the available evidence casts doubt on the factual basis for such a conclusion. Police records related to murder investigations are often stored and transmitted internally in a haphazard manner, causing many lost opportunities to gather and analyze the information they contain.

SEE ALSO: Special Investigation on Homicides in Guatemala

Thus it is perhaps little surprise that the Diálogos report generally concurred with InSight Crime’s in terms of its recommendations. The organization urged Guatemalan authorities to improve data collection and maintenance, deepen their focus on the root causes of high homicide rates, and use data to help target policing resources on the areas and interpersonal networks where the majority of murders tend to take place.

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