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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

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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.
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.

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01/07/2013

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CRIME, VIOLENCE, AND THE CRISISIN GUATEMALA:A CASE STUDY IN THE EROSIONOF THE STATEHal BrandsMay 2010
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The views expressed in this report are those of the authorand do not necessarily reect the ofcial policy or positionof the Department of the Army, the Department of De-fense, or the U.S. Government. Authors of Strategic StudiesInstitute (SSI) publications enjoy full academic freedom,provided they do not disclose classied information, jeop-ardize operations security, or misrepresent ofcial U.S.policy. Such academic freedom empowers them to offernew and sometimes controversial perspectives in the inter-est of furthering debate on key issues. This report is clearedfor public release; distribution is unlimited.*****This publication is subject to Title 17, United States Code,Sections 101 and 105. It is in the public domain and may notbe copyrighted.
 
ii *****Comments pertaining to this report are invited and shouldbe forwarded to: Director, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. ArmyWar College, 122 Forbes Ave, Carlisle, PA 17013-5244.*****This manuscript was funded by the U.S. Army War CollegeExternal Research Associates Program. Information on this pro-gram is available on our website,
www.StrategicStudiesInstitute.army.mil
, at the Publishing button.*****All Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) publications may bedownloaded free of charge from the SSI website. Hard copiesof this report may also be obtained free of charge by placing anorder on the SSI website. SSI’s website address is:
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.*****The Strategic Studies Institute publishes a monthly e-mailnewsletter to update the national security community on the re-search of our analysts, recent and forthcoming publications, andupcoming conferences sponsored by the Institute. Each newslet-ter also provides a strategic commentary by one of our researchanalysts. If you are interested in receiving this newsletter, pleasesubscribe on our homepage at
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ISBN 1-58487-442-2
 
iii
FOREWORD
Conventional security threats have receded inLatin America since the end of the Cold War, butunconventional threats—namely organized crime,drug trafcking, and their attendant violence—havecome to the forefront of the regional agenda. In thismonograph, Dr. Hal Brands examines the evolvingregional security landscape by exploring the relation-ship between crime, violence, and state institutionsin Guatemala. That country is aficted by the actionsof a wide range of criminal groups, and its currentpredicament demonstrates the profoundly corrosiveeffect that crime can have on public security and dem-ocratic governance. It also shows how weak govern-ment institutions, embedded poverty and corruption,and other structural factors stand in the way of anylasting resolution to this crisis. As a result, tacklingthe challenge of insecurity in Guatemala will requirepatient, holistic efforts that address root causes as wellas symptoms.The Strategic Studies Institute is pleased to offerthis monograph, which it hopes will inform the evolv-ing debate over regional security and unconventionalthreats in Latin America. DOUGLAS C. LOVELACE, JR.DirectorStrategic Studies Institute

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