Guatemala continues to serve as a major transit country for illegal drugs. According to U.S. government estimates, approximately 86 percent of the cocaine trafficked to the United States in the first half of 2013 first transited through the Mexico/Central America corridor, with as much as 80 percent of that amount transiting Guatemala. President Otto Perez Molina continues to prioritize the fight against drug trafficking and violence, and Guatemala achieved some success in 2013 as reflected by increased volumes of drug seizures. Nevertheless, the Government of Guatemala’s fight against narcotics trafficking is hampered by the country’s weak public institutions, pervasive corruption, and lack of funding.
The country’s geographic location, weak governmental institutions, and limited governmental and security presence impede effective law enforcement and judicial action against drug crimes. Transnational drug trafficking organizations are able to move drugs, precursor chemicals, and bulk cash through Guatemala with little difficulty, especially within the extensive under-governed borders areas. The cultivation of opium poppy continues and increasing amounts of marijuana are grown for domestic use.
Since taking office in January 2012, President Otto Perez Molina has raised the possibility of legalizing drugs currently scheduled for control by the UN drug control conventions in various international fora, including the Organization of American States and the United Nations. Notwithstanding his public call for “alternative approaches” in the fight against narcotics, Perez Molina has stated that Guatemala will not unilaterally move to legalize narcotics and his administration has continued to pursue criminal cases against drug trafficking.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
President Otto Pérez Molina has stated that his administration’s highest priority is to achieve reductions in the country’s high levels of violence and insecurity. However, the Guatemalan government’s efforts are hampered by weak enforcement of its criminal laws, a largely ineffective police force, and an overburdened and inefficient judicial system that lacks the ability to deter narcotics trafficking, violent crimes or crime in general. Guatemala suffers from severe budget constraints, which are exacerbated by endemic corruption and low rates of tax-collection. Violent crime rose in 2013, reversing a trend of reduced violence in 2012. The number of homicides rose to 5,231, a one percent increase over 2012. The impunity rate for violent crimes remains high, at 70 percent according to a UN estimate, although this marks a decrease from a 2012 estimate of 98 percent.
To combat the rising crime rate, President Pérez Molina authorized increased collaboration between the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) and the military in an attempt to improve civil order and security, especially in rural areas. Despite concerns in some sectors over the perceived militarization of the fight against trafficking and violent crime, anecdotal evidence suggests this collaboration has support among the populace, and started to see some success in deterring crime by the end of 2013.
Guatemalan authorities are increasingly utilizing the 2010 Seized Assets Law. During fiscal year 2013, the Seized Asset Secretariat disbursed more than $2.45 million (seized mostly from assets derived from drug crimes) to various government institutions, including the Courts, Public Ministry, Ministry of Government, Ministry of Defense, and Solicitor General’s Office. This marked an increase of $1.36 million from 2012.
Also during 2013, the United States assisted the PNC with the formation of a new land interdiction unit capable of conducting mobile check points to combat the vehicular transshipment of drugs and other illicit goods. The unit completed its basic training in October, and began conducting training missions the same month.
Guatemala is an active participant in multilateral efforts to combat narcotics trafficking, such as the U.S.-sponsored Multilateral Counterdrug Summit, which includes participants from source and transit countries in Central and South America. Guatemala is a party to the Central American Commission for the Eradication of Production, Traffic, Consumption and Illicit Use of Psychotropic Drugs and Substances, as well as the Central American Treaty on Joint Legal Assistance for Penal Issues. It is also a party to the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, and the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. A maritime counter narcotics agreement with the United States is fully implemented. Guatemala ratified the Inter-American Mutual Legal Assistance Convention, and is a party to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission. Guatemala is one of six countries (along with Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, France, and the United States) that ratified the Caribbean Regional Agreement on Maritime Counter Narcotics, which is now in force.
A 1903 extradition treaty between Guatemala and the United States is in effect and allows for the extradition of Guatemalan nationals. In 1940, a supplemental extradition treaty added narcotics offenses to the list of extraditable offenses. As a result of reform laws passed by the Guatemalan Congress in 2008, all U.S. requests for extradition in drug cases are consolidated and expedited in specialized courts located in Guatemala City and the Guatemalan government continues to work closely with the United States on extradition matters. During the first 10 months of 2013, eight Guatemalan citizens, four of whom were related to drug crimes, were extradited to the United States with minimal difficulties. Guatemala also arrested a number of high-profile drug traffickers in 2013 in collaboration with U.S. law enforcement authorities.
2. Supply Reduction
The PNC conducted three opium poppy eradication missions in the area of San Marcos, near the Mexican border. Through October, the Government reported eradicating 2,568 hectares of opium poppies and two million marijuana plants, a threefold increase over 2012.
During the first nine months of 2013, Guatemalan Police authorities reported the seizure of 2,146.4 kilograms (kg) of cocaine and 18.5 kg of heroin. In addition, a specialized counternarcotics Naval Unit belonging to the Ministry of Defense reported seizing 1,831 kg of cocaine, five vessels, and making 16 arrests. The total seizures represent a 330 percent increase over 2012. The police also located and dismantled four methamphetamine labs, each capable of producing 23 kg of methamphetamine per day.
The Guatemalan government’s Inter Institutional Anti-Narcotics and Anti-Terrorist Unit, utilizing six U.S.-provided helicopters, responded to nine inbound flights suspected of drug-trafficking. Seven flights retreated to foreign air space and two were grounded but resulted in no arrest or seizures. The six UH-1H II helicopters were nationalized in September through a donation from the United States to the Guatemalan government.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
Current information and data to accurately assess the breadth of illicit drug abuse in Guatemala is lacking. The most recent statistics are from a 2005 survey that estimated the prevalence of illicit drug use at 3.16 percent. Anecdotal evidence suggests that traffickers may be attempting to increase the domestic market by providing payment to local couriers in drugs rather than cash.
The Guatemalan government’s Secretariat for the Commission against Addictions and Drug Trafficking (SECCATID) remained underfunded despite U.S. and other international donor support. With U.S. technical assistance, SECCATID revised and updated its National Policy against Drug Use and Drug Trafficking in order to more precisely define its strategic goals. Overall U.S. support to SECCATID is focused on institutional capacity building and evidence-based programs. The United States also supports drug treatment and prevention training in Guatemala, in cooperation with the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission.
The Ministry of Health’s Technical Unit in charge of authorizing and monitoring Drug Treatment Centers conducted a nationwide assessment of 65 treatment centers with U.S. assistance. The assessment, conducted to determine compliance with minimum treatment standards and provide training to treatment center personnel, found the majority of treatment centers fell short of government requirements. There is only one government funded treatment center in operation in Guatemala, though many private centers exist.
The Government of Guatemala increased its public awareness efforts against illegal drugs in 2013. In conjunction with the PNC’s eradication operations, Ministry of Health local authorities targeted community leaders and school children in their area of responsibility to raise awareness of the negative effects and health risks associated with the cultivation of poppy. Drug demand reduction programs in Salcajá, Quetzaltenango and Petén directed towards community and government leaders, educators, parents, and students were implemented under the auspices of local Ministry of Education authorities with U.S. support. The United States also assisted an awareness and information campaign, carried out by Azteca Foundation, targeting 24,000 middle and high school students annually.
Guatemala continues to face significant challenges with corruption in its fight against narcotics trafficking. The Government of Guatemala does not, as a matter of policy, encourage or facilitate illicit production and distribution of narcotic or psychotropic drugs or other controlled substances, or the laundering of proceeds from illegal drug transactions. However, low salaries and a culture of impunity allow corruption to proliferate among law enforcement and judicial sector personnel.
The United States continues to focus its anti-corruption assistance efforts on developing and training specialized vetted units, particularly counternarcotics, money laundering and anti-gang forces. The United States also supports the Background Verification Unit from the PNC Academy as well as the Guatemalan Police Reform Commission in developing and implementing standards for the suitability of police applicants.
The mandate for the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which was created in 2007 to investigate and dismantle criminal organizations operating within state institutions, was set to expire in September 2013. However, President Pérez Molina requested and was granted an extension of CICIG’s mandate until September 2015. The United States has provided nearly $21 million to support CICIG’s operation.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
The United States supports citizen security, law enforcement, and rule-of-law programs in Guatemala, mainly through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). These programs aim to expand Guatemalan capabilities to interdict, investigate, and prosecute illegal drug trafficking and other transnational crimes, while strengthening Guatemala’s justice sector.
Through CARSI, the United States trains and equips Guatemalan police to perform anti-gang law enforcement. The United States also supports community policing in Guatemala with equipment, vehicles, training, communications, and social and economic programs.
The United States continues to be a key provider of assistance aimed at improving the professional capabilities, equipment, and integrity of Guatemala’s police, military, and judicial agencies to enable them to more effectively combat criminal organizations involved in narcotics trafficking and transnational crimes. The goal of all U.S. assistance efforts is to create effective structures and organizations that can be sustained by the Government of Guatemala. A major milestone in these efforts was the transfer of title and operational control of six UH-1H II helicopters, from the United States to the Ministry of Government in September 2013, effectively nationalizing the aviation interdiction program.
Also during 2013, the United States collaborated with the PNC in the formation of a 38 man land interdiction unit to conduct mobile check points and restrict the use of Guatemalan road system for transshipment of drugs and other illicit produces.
The United States continues to assist Guatemala with improving its law enforcement procedures and organization through training select personnel, donating essential equipment, and by providing adequate operational support. These efforts include support to the Police Reform Commission and Guatemalan police academies; supporting the advancement of professional responsibility policies and procedures within the PNC; supporting improvements to the criminal investigation capacity within the PNC; and assisting the Guatemalan government with the expansion of the PNC to 35,000 officers. These efforts aim to modernize the PNC force with an emphasis on technical competency, fostering a culture of law enforcement professionalism and enhanced standards, community oriented policing, administrative efficiency, and dedicated service to Guatemalan society.
U.S. support for rule-of-law activities is allowing Guatemala to continue to increase its capacity to prosecute narcotics traffickers, organized crime leaders, money launderers, and corrupt officials. Additional efforts include financial and technical support to three special prosecutorial units for criminal cases, and a special task force for investigation and preparation of high-impact narcotics cases. The seized asset law is an effective tool for depriving drug traffickers of illicit proceeds and provide needed resources to the law enforcement and justice sector.
The Guatemalan government is committed to cooperating with the United States and other international partners in regional counternarcotics efforts, as evidenced by the progress and successes seen in 2013. However, significant challenges remain. Public confidence in government institutions is still lacking, in large part due to alleged corruption, the continuing violence associated with drug trafficking organizations, gangs, and other forms of transnational crime.
The current administration came into office amid rising public insecurity with a mandate to take a more aggressive approach toward combatting this phenomenon. Although it achieved some positive results in its efforts to fight narcotic trafficking and other related transnational crimes in 2013, the Government of Guatemala’s interdiction and enforcement efforts continue to suffer from a lack of capability, capacity, and resources. While Guatemalan government agencies are maturing and gaining some momentum in the fight against drugs trafficking, they will not succeed in building durable and effective counter-narcotic enforcement organizations until the Guatemalan government fully implements its laws, provides adequate financial support, reforms its law enforcement culture, and professionalizes its judicial processes.