The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) works to keep Americans safe at home by countering international crime, illegal drugs, and instability abroad. INL helps countries deliver justice and fairness by strengthening their police, courts, and corrections systems. These efforts reduce the amount of crime and illegal drugs reaching U.S. shores.
INL programs in Guatemala aim to enhance U.S. security and prosperity through law enforcement, counternarcotics, and justice sector assistance. These programs are consistent with security and governance priorities of the U.S. Strategy for Central America and the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), and complement efforts under the Central American governments’ Alliance for Prosperity. By improving the capacity of Guatemalan police, border security, counternarcotics units, prosecutors, judges, and corrections institutions, INL reduces the threat to the United States from crime, illicit drug trafficking, transnational criminal organizations, and illegal migration originating from and moving through Guatemala.
Despite previously made gains in the fight against corruption, drug trafficking, gang violence, and transnational crime, Guatemala faces significant challenges. Many areas of the country, especially along Guatemala’s borders, are under the influence of drug trafficking organizations. In 2018, an estimated 1,400 metric tons of cocaine were smuggled through Guatemala, the majority of it destined for the U.S. market. Guatemala also confronts an array of transnational criminal organizations involved in alien smuggling, trafficking in persons, money laundering, arms trafficking, and extortion.
Guatemala is combatting these organizations by enhancing the capacity of the police, improving border security, reforming laws and justice sector institutions, and creating additional courts focused on organized crime. Guatemalan institutions cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies and, together, INL and Guatemala have expanded vetted units, increased drug and other contraband seizures, and made substantial progress against crime through projects like the Model Police Precinct and New Correctional Model programs.
Countering Narcotics – In 2018, Guatemalan police and military units seized record amounts of narcotics as INL programs started to take hold. Despite these gains, drug traffic has risen dramatically through Guatemala, commensurate with increasing production in the region, leading INL to expand its counternarcotics programming to combat the increased flow. INL continues to support, train, and vet DEA-sponsored units that investigate and arrest drug traffickers. Coordination between U.S. and Guatemalan units has been excellent, and DEA intelligence has been used by Guatemalan police to seize over 8,000 kilograms of illicit drugs in 2018. INL supports efforts to locate, seize, and destroy precursor chemicals used in cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl production. In July 2017, INL complemented its ongoing regional training regime for Northern Triangle port employees to safely identify and seize illicit chemicals by providing the counternarcotics unit with an incinerator to destroy seized chemicals destined for the U.S.
Combatting Gangs and Transnational Crime – INL uses a range of programs to combat transnational crime and gangs in Guatemala. INL funds an FBI-advised Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) Unit, which cooperates with other TAG units in the Northern Triangle to investigate transnational gang activity. In 2016, TAG officers in Guatemala, in cooperation with their counterparts in El Salvador, arrested high level MS-13 leaders, including one wanted for an attempted assassination of then-Attorney General (AG) Thelma Aldana. INL also supports the joint AG/PNC Anti-Gang Unit (DIPANDA) to fight local gang violence and extortion, which are major drivers of illegal migration to the United States.
Border and Port Security – INL supports two U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) advisors who provide technical expertise on border security, infrastructure, and operations at ports of entry, oversee INL projects and initiatives, coordinate training, identify related deficiencies, and provide solutions for national border improvement efforts. In the border region, INL is also providing CBP-led training for additional border police (DIPAFRONT) and assisting with the development and implementation of highway checkpoints. The INL support of DIPAFRONT has facilitated training for over 150 new DIPAFRONT recruits, bringing the total number of the force to 540 with a goal of increasing to 2,500 over the next five years. INL-supported Guatemalan police units apprehended 1,494 illegal migrants in 2018.
Police Assistance – INL works with the National Civil Police (PNC) to improve training, evaluation, and efficacy, and provides direct assistance to individual units such as DIFEP, the PNC SWAT team. INL training, equipment, and advisors helped DIFEP end, without incurring casualties, a nationally televised standoff with gang members in a prison. INL also supports community police efforts through its Model Police Precinct program, which expands professionalized police presence to high-risk communities to reduce gang recruitment and the influence of narcotraffickers. INL also supports institutional enhancements by working with the PNC academy to improve curriculum and evaluation.
Forensics – Improving the quality and use of forensic evidence in Guatemala has been an INL focus for several years. With INL support, Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Science (INACIF) received controlled access to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), an FBI DNA database containing criminal DNA samples from the U.S. as well as other participating countries. INL also donated a DNA extraction system to INACIF to support Guatemala’s internal DNA database development. INL has established a grant of approximately $5,000,000 to provide training, mentorship, and equipment to Guatemala tailored specifically toward the development of an integrated regional forensic DNA database to be shared by all Northern Triangle countries.
Place Based Strategy (PBS) – INL partners with local government, community groups, and USAID to target specific high-risk neighborhoods with a full range of programming. This holistic approach has been successfully implemented in the neighborhoods of Exodo, Villa Lobos I and II, and La Esperanza in zone 12 of the municipality of Villa Nueva, just outside of Guatemala City. INL provides police training, policing technology, equipment, advisors, construction materials, prevention programs, and School Resource Officers to these areas, while USAID contributes community leadership training and social programs. The municipality of Villa Nueva provides staffing, community programs, and government support. The PNC committed to placing up to 250 additional officers in the area to provide better police coverage and to participate in training provided by INL-supported Colombian National Police. INL supported the PNC with this effort by installing a Substation in Villa Lobos I consisting of four container buildings and a security barrier. The PBS has seen positive results, with homicides reduced by 26 percent in zone 12 of Villa Nueva from 2017 to 2018.
Justice Sector Reform – INL supports broad justice sector reform activities, focused on legal advising, asset forfeiture reform, procedural and institutional changes, and training to prosecutors and judges. INL’s legal advisors assist and train members of the Public Ministry and advocate for changes to legal codes and for professionalization of investigators and prosecutors. AG Porras collaborates closely with INL and supports an improved prosecutorial model and expansion of access to justice for the Guatemalan people. Under Porras’ stewardship and with INL support, the AG’s office is planning to create an Internal Affairs Unit, vet the Seized Assets Prosecutors Unit, strengthen the anti-drug trafficking prosecutorial office, and provide additional support to the Anti-Corruption Unit and the Special Prosecutor Office Against Impunity (FECI). INL also supports a Department of Justice Resident Legal Advisor who works on legal reform and trains prosecutors to investigate financial crimes and transnational organized crime.
Implementation of the New Correctional Model Program – The goal of INL’s correctional assistance program in Guatemala is to change the systematic approach to corrections by shifting from a punitive to a rehabilitative model, reduce recidivism, and enhance citizen security. In 2016, INL announced a partnership with the Guatemalan government and civil society to implement the National Corrections Reform Strategy through the New Correctional Model (NCM), and new corrections officers and management staff began training at the internationally recognized Correctional Model Academy in the Dominican Republic. In early 2018, changes in political will and budgetarysupport by the Ministry of Government hindered further reform to the adult penitentiary system, so INL refocused efforts and partnered with the Secretariat of Social Wellbeing of the Presidency to implement the NCM within Guatemala’s juvenile detention system. INL will fund the renovation and development of a Center for Reinsertion and a Model Halfway House: both facilities will be the first of their kind in the region, offering rehabilitation programming to prepare residents for a successful reintegration into society. If political will returns, INL will work to further implement the NCM by developing programming in both the adult and juvenile detention systems.