Friday, February 1, 2013

Violent start to the year in Guatemala

Prensa Latina
Guatemalan authorities reported that in January there were 50 more homicides compared to the same month last year and that in this country, there is a murder average of 15 people a day.
This was confirmed by the government's Interior Minister, Mauricio Lopez, when he was questioned by deputies from the Libertad Democratica Renovada (LIDER) opposition party.
The news shouldn't come as a surprise. As everyone was trying to come to grips with statistics that showed a three year decrease in murder rates, January was looking to be a very violent month from the start. There was the murder of six women in a single day including two young girls in their pajamas. There have been several murdered bus drivers and transportation workers. And in the last week, there have been four police officers killed.

I thought that Guatemala was going to see a rough year in 2012 as it was going to be difficult to post a third straight year of improved murder rates. I was also worried about what mano dura was going to bring. Fortunately, 2012 was another year of fewer murders - lots of problems but increasing murders wasn't one of them. I'm glad that I was wrong there.

It's unclear whether the increase in murders is the start of a year-long reversal or just a blip in continued improved security. We won't know for a couple of months or more. However, I've been a bit worried since the October massacre and wouldn't be surprised to see a reversal this year. If that happens, I think that it will be important to view any increase as a reversal not more evidence that Guatemala is sliding into the abyss.

Guatemala has seen its murder rate decrease from 46 to 41 to 39 to 34 in four years. The conditions on the ground in Guatemala - drugs, corruption, inequality, poverty, organized crime, gangs, weak police and justice system, etc. - are going to make significant reductions really hard to come by in the short-term.  

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