Can Guatemala free itself
from the stranglehold of violence?
Ideas and possible actions…


Violence feeds on the corruption and inefficiency of the judicial system.
Impunity is the rule, and Guatemalans no longer believe in justice.

Only 2% of the crime cases processed by the Justice Ministry and the courts result in a trial.

Corruption plagues every gear and cog of the Guatemalan state. The stooges and lobbyists of organized crime work within a whole range of institutions: airports, prisons, the prosecutor’s office, the police, and in the courts.

The state is so weak,
with such minimal financial resources and so few reliable institutions, that it alone cannot assume the struggle against corruption. Since its founding, this culture has placed the interests of the wealthy few before those of the general public.

“End impunity: we’ve had enough.”

In 2006, an International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, the ICAIG, was mandated by the United Nations to investigate and dismantle the criminal organizations responsible not only for generalized crime, but also for the paralysis of the judicial system and the infiltration and corruption of governmental institutions.

The ICAIG has already carried out several inquiries, leading in particular to the arrest of Alfonso Portillo, president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004, accused of misappropriating $70 million in public funds.

The ICAIG is effective. Ever since it was founded, it has been subjected to virulent criticism and action in an effort to tie its hands with claims that it is “unconstitutional.”

In June 2010, ICAIG chairman Carlos Castresana, a Spanish jurist, resigned in protest over the Guatemalan government decision to appoint Conrado Reyes as Attorney General. Believing Reyes is linked to drug traffickers, Castresana accused the government of breaking its promise to combat impunity.
Reyes declined to assume his duties. Finally, Claudia
Paz y Paz, a woman from civil society, was designated for the job by President Alvaro Colom.

A juge places
General Efrain Rios Montt
under house arrest.

On charges of genocide.

Amnesty International continues to demand an end to the impunity for all those presumed guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Civil War. It continues to pressure Guatemalan authorities to carry out inquiries, in order to force those responsible, at every level of the chain of command, to account for
for the role they played in these war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated during the Civil War.


Otto Perez Molina, a former army general, was elected president of Guatemala in November 2011 on the “Patriotic Party” ticket. He campaigned on promises to take a strong stance against violence, a policy symbolized by his party’s clenched-fist logo. If necessary, he will call on elite army commandos to establish order.
The militarization of public safety is an admission that democratic institutions have failed.

For the past ten years or so, authorities have responded to violence by making arrests.

But these policies have failed. They are aimed at exerting control over the general public, instead of developing programs that would improve living conditions. For young people, violence is attractive, in the absence of educational and vocational programs, a real job market, accessible healthcare, and financing for young businessmen..

Mareros are giving up crime:

150 of them are working in companies.

Pressure from the international community has stimulated a few positive initiatives: the Special Tribunals established in 2008 by the law against murdering women. Not to mention the work of NGOs and charities in the field: with very little means, they compensate for the lack of any real social policy, contributing to forging bonds in certain neighborhoods.
Thanks to their programs, former mareros have been able to train for and find employment in companies.

“The government does nothing. The indifference is cruel. The question today is what can we do as citizens? We are motivated by a desire to participate in building a better society for our country. To give an opportunity to people who have none. Who lead reclusive lives in nearby parts of the city where there is no work and no hope. If we don’t help them, what will happen? Even more violence?”

Carla SPR representative for an industrial bakery
that has hired 4 ex-mareros.


Illicit drugs bound for the United States are stored in Guatemala. To fight this trade, the new government has planned to deploy special army units like the kaibiles and paratroopers in the regions most affected by it. Moreover, the government also plans “to enforce the law against organized crime,” providing for the use of undercover agents, phone-tapping, and controlled deliveries.

In April 2012, the new president surprised everyone by calling for the decriminalization and regulation of the drug market, to bring it in line with the alcohol and tobacco markets.
Otto Pérez Molina’s request for international cooperation to deal with the failure of current policies was ignored by the United States, Russia, and Great Britain. However, the summit meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) was more receptive to his proposal.


In the aftermath of the civil war, it is still too easy to get guns in Guatemala.
An estimated 1.8 million firearms are still in circulation, a factor in fostering an especially high rate of crime.

Very little effort has been made in the field of disarmament. The last initiative taken to recover weapons dates back to 1997, when the United Nations Observers Mission supervised the recovery of weapons from guerrilla units. It resulted in the collection of about 1,500 weapons and 535,000 grenades and low-caliber munitions.

Police confiscate weapons from Los Zetas (a Mexican drug cartel) in Zacapa. A veritable war arsenal.

Moreover, Guatemala has continued to import large quantities of pistols, revolvers, and ammunition, from sources in Germany, Argentina, North Korea, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United States, Israel, Italy, Mexico, and Turkey. These weapons are used by military and security forces, but they are also sold by the country’s firearms dealers.

Guatemala is not an isolated case. In many countries, it is easy to procure guns, because the world trade in these items is lucrative. It is still too poorly regulated, controlled, and supervised. Because weapons and human-rights violations are clearly linked, many NGOs, including Amnesty International, joined a gun control campaign ten years ago. One of its aims is to have the United Nations adopt an international treaty on firearms.

The goal is simply to regulate the trade, not to ban it. States have the right to arm themselves, if only to protect their own citizens. An effective treaty would make it possible to prevent weapons transfers that are likely to lead to human-rights violations. In 2012, after a ten-year campaign, the treaty is at last being finalized. A strong foundation has been laid nevertheless, and activists continue to lobby for tighter legislation by 2013.

Of course, it will not have an immediate impact on countries like Guatemala. The aims of the treaty are long-term global prevention. If the terms stipulated by the NGOs are adopted, governments and corporations will have made a true commitment, because the pact will be enforceable.


Many national and international organizations are striving to end violence and impunity in Guatemala, either directly, in the field, or indirectly, by contributing to the struggle.

The international groups

Amnesty International

Founded in 1961, Amnesty International is a worldwide, independent movement. It has over 3 million members working for the respect, defense, and promotion of human rights.

Initially, it focused on campaigns to free political prisoners. However, the scope of its activities now includes all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights defined by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, Amnesty International acts independently of any government, political influence, and religious belief. As a result, its condemnations of human-rights violations are totally impartial.

For funding, it relies on support from donors and members. Amnesty International refuses any subsidies from states and political parties, and does not solicit corporations.

In France

Le Collectif Guatemala

Le Collectif Guatemala is a non-profit organization founded in France in 1979 by Guatemalan refugees and French human-rights activists. Its chief purpose is to provide support for progressive organizations in Guatemala in their efforts to build a state of rights.
In Guatemala, the collective focuses on protecting human-rights advocacy groups and individuals. It has also set up video workshops to teach community organizers how to make documentary films.
Documentary films already made by Le Collectif Guatemala member and journalist Grégory Lassalle are available in both Guatemala and France.


In France, online and via its bimonthly news bulletin Solidarité Guatemala, the collective informs the French public of political and social issues in Guatemala, the human-rights situation, and actions by rural grass-roots movements. It also organizes support for Guatemalan citizens’ groups fighting for justice and a state of rights, and sponsors lectures, workshops, screenings, etc.
Contact :

In Guatemala

Caja Ludica

Caja Ludica is an intercultural, pluridisciplinary, intergenerational organization supporting local training or community organization efforts. Its strategy consists of using art, play, and cultural diversity in all of its interactions with civil society, in order to participate in the construction of a culture of peace.

CALDH (Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos)

Its goal: to promote the exercise and defense of fundamental human rights, access to justice, historical memory, the deconstruction of discrimination, racism, and all other forms of oppression, by and for citizen participation. CALDH supports victims and witnesses of the massacres during the Civil War in taking legal action. In addition to this struggle for justice, in 2010 CALDH launched a campaign to support and defend the right to expression of Guatemala’s young people, “Somos Juventud” (“We are youth”).

CIIDH (Centro Internacional de Investigaciones de Derechos Humanos)

The CIIDH was founded in 1993 to assist the endeavors of civil society in the field of human rights. Among other initiatives, it has carried out inquiries on the past and the Civil War, follow-up on the Peace Accords, the search for those who disappeared in the war, and follow-up on victims.

CONACMI (Asociación Nacional Contra El Maltrato Infantil)

This organization develops programs for the prevention of child abuse as well as psychological support for children and adolescents who have been victims of violence, mistreatment, and sexual abuse. It also sponsors workshops in schools to raise child and teacher awareness.

ECAP (Equipos de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial)

ECAP develops social programs for persons who have suffered from psycho-social violence and serious human-rights violations. Its goals are to contribute to the recovery of the country’s historical memory, to promote justice, and to reinforce community activist skills, to empower evolution towards a democratic society and a culture of peace.

Fundación Sobrevivientes

Formed by women who are survivors of all types of abuse, this NGO supports mistreated and battered girls and women and victims of rape or attempted murder. Its mission is to end all forms of violence against women, by punishing the perpetrators. They provide women with legal advice, support, and special programs to help them improve their lives. The goal is to contribute to establishing effective public policies. Sobrevivientes is a watchdog agency, holding Guatemala to its international engagements to defend the rights of women and children.

ICCPG (Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala)

A scholarly non-profit organization, ICCPG carries out studies and provides training and counsel in the fields of criminal justice, public safety, and human rights. To promote a change Guatemalan law-enforcement policies, it takes action in the following ways:

Strengthening criminal law policies in harmony with the principles of social justice and the rule of law, developing alternative methods for the resolution of conflicts and fighting state violence; acknowledging judicial pluralism; reinforcing administrative and judicial agencies to eradicate impunity; and strengthening the participation of civil society in the construction of a democratic society.

The ICCPG’s public policy proposals and its critical, constructive position on social and criminal justice are recognized both inside Guatemala and internationally. It is also fighting for demilitarization and democratic public safety in Guatemala. The ICCPG speaks out against torture, the death penalty, and extrajudicial killings, the majority of which concern the least powerful members of society: women, minors, and people of Indian origin.

SEDEM (Seguridad en Democracia)

SEDEM is an NGO working on democratic control of Guatemala’s security and intelligence services. Its members include journalists, human-rights advocates, and professors of social sciences. SEDEM’s mission is to promote practices that consolidate systems of security under a democracy, by reinforcing and training citizens’ networks, communication, and information, while accounting for cultural factors such as gender and diversity in Guatemala.

ODHAG (Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala)

The goal of ODHAG is to promote the empowerment of underprivileged communities and to take action in the field to promote human rights, in order to fight exclusion.

UDEFEGUA (Unidad de Proteccion a defensores de Derechos Humanos)

This NGO works towards the safety of human-rights advocates, by providing training, protection, and support in case of attacks or threats. Its goals are to mobilize the international community and its institutions to combat the attacks and dangers faced by human-rights advocates and obtain appropriate support for their needs. UDEFEGUA director Claudia Samayoa has focused on the theme of violence and youth, in particular. She was in charge of drafting a report called “Extrajudicial killings of young outcasts in Central America: A study of the situation in Guatemala, El Salvador, and the Honduras in 2009” (“Ejecuciones Extrajudiciales de jóvenes estigmatizados en Centroamérica, Estudio de Situación de Guatemala, El Salvador y Honduras 2009”), published in July 2011.


For a greater understanding of the issue of Guatemalan violence, its history, and possible preventive measures.