With the United States and Mexico governments clamping down on the numerous drug cartels in Mexico, Colombia and other Central American nations, the drug market and its violence have spread into Guatemala. As Guatemala is still recovering the crippling effects of its civil war from the mid 1950s to the end of the 1990s, the drug organizations are taking advantage of this.
Guatemala is severely impoverished. More than 10 percent of the nation lives on approximately $1.25 per day, the global economic crisis plagues the job market in Guatemala and with the paucity of opportunities, including educational, the drug gangs can easily lure the youth into their underworld.
The latest United Nations statistics from 2009 suggest that Guatemala maintains one of the highest murder rates in the world – 50 people killed for every 100,000 Guatemalans – more than 4,000 people were killed in 2009.
Meanwhile, the figures also show that 95 percent of these killings remain unsolved and violent crimes, such as shootouts in the streets and murders of public transit workers, are a daily occurrence.
Although Guatemala only has about 17,000 troops, the Wall Street Journal reports that President Alvaro Colom has deployed hundreds of military personnel to the rural state of Alta Verapaz in order to eliminate Los Zetas, a powerful Mexican drug cartel that has committed numerous acts of dreadful violence.
“We’re facing a permanent invasion,” said the Guatemalan President in a radio interview with a local radio station, reports the Canadian Press. “We are aware that these criminals are waiting for us to retreat so they can return, but no security units will leave.”
Furthermore, Colom declared a state of emergency in the province, which allows local authorities conduct raids and arrests without securing a warrant. Since the President’s declaration, more than $1.2 million items have been confiscated, including drugs, weaponry and cash, and about 25 suspects have been detained.
Some local experts, though, are cautioning the President from making dire decisions, according to the United Press International. “If we put our military against the military of the drug traffickers, we'll simply have thousands of deaths,” said the Guatemala Studies Center security expert, Sandino Asturias.
Nevertheless, many are concerned about the situation in Guatemala. U.S. Democratic Congressman Eliot L. Engel urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deploy more law-enforcement aid to Guatemala because he feels the country is even weaker than Mexico, according to the Loss Angeles Times.
“It is essential that we view our efforts to combat drugs and violence in the Western Hemisphere in a more holistic way,” said the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
In the end, Guatemala’s violence isn’t just about drugs. The nation’s women are facing a “violence epidemic” as well. PBS recently published an in-depth look into the world of an average female Guatemalan.
The latest numbers show that at least two women in Guatemala are killed each day. Women there face domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, trafficking and murder. On an annual basis, unofficial statistics state that around 10,000 women report sexual assaults, however, Doctors Without Borders say the number is actually a lot higher.
“We have a history of 30 years of civil war which has not been solved,” psychological coordinator of Doctors Without Borders in Guatemala, Mayras Rodas. “We live in a machismo and patriarchal society. Women are treated as objects which can be taken. To be a woman here is like being garbage. This is what our patients tell us.”