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Crime, Violence, and the Crisis in Guatemala: A Case Study in the Erosion of the State

Crime, Violence, and the Crisis in Guatemala: A Case Study in the Erosion of the State - Cover

Authored by Dr. Hal Brands.

May 2010

72 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Guatemala is currently experiencing a full-blown crisis of the democratic state. An unholy trinity of criminal elements—international drug traffickers, domestically based organized crime syndicates, and youth gangs—is effectively waging a form of irregular warfare against government institutions, with devastating consequences. The police, the judiciary, and entire local and departmental governments are rife with criminal infiltrators; murder statistics have surpassed civil-war levels in recent years; criminal operatives brazenly assassinate government officials and troublesome members of the political class; and broad swaths of territory are now effectively under the control of criminal groups. Guatemala’s weak institutions have been unable to contain this violence, leading to growing civic disillusion and causing a marked erosion in the authority and legitimacy of the government.

Summary

In numerous Latin American countries, organized crime and violence are corroding governance and imperiling democratic legitimacy. This phenomenon is most severe in Guatemala, which is currently experiencing a full-blown crisis of the democratic state. An unholy trinity of criminal elements—international drug traffickers, domestically based organized crime syndicates, and youth gangs—have dramatically expanded their operations since the 1990s, and are effectively waging a form of irregular warfare against government institutions.

The effects of this campaign have been dramatic. The police, the judiciary, and entire local and departmental governments are rife with criminal infiltrators; murder statistics have surpassed civil-war levels in recent years; criminal operatives brazenly assassinate government officials and troublesome members of the political class; and broad swaths of territory are now effectively under the control of criminal groups. Guatemala’s weak institutions have been unable to contain this violence, leading to growing civic disillusion and causing marked erosion in the authority and legitimacy of the state. This problem cannot be addressed through police measures alone; combating it will require a holistic strategy that combines robust enforcement and security measures with sustained efforts to broaden socio-economic opportunities, combat corruption, and, above all, to build a stronger and more capable state.


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