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Wikileaks Guatemala: Corruption and Crime in the National Civil Police

March 9, 2011

El País published a group of Wikileaks cables concerning Guatemala on 15 February. Five cables from the US Embassy in Guatemala have been filed under the theme of “Corruption in Guatemala.” The cables contain a wealth of interesting information, much of it of highly relevant to current events in Guatemala.

Guatemala's National Civil Police. Courtesy of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Guatemala

A good portion of the information in the cables comes from discussions between US Embassy staff and Carlos Castresana, the former head of the UN-supported International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala). In 08GUATEMALA355, dated 19 March 2008, former Ambassador Derham reports that Castresana described himself as unprepared for both the level of corruption he was confronted with in Guatemalan law enforcement institutions, as well as the extent to which these institutions have been infiltrated by organized crime. Castresana suggested that, at the time, neither Attorney General Florido nor Minister of Government Gómez were in control of their departments. He was also critical of the National Civil Police (PNC, Policía Nacional Civil), whose methods he described as being of questionable legality. As evidence of this, he cited information gathered during the CICIG’s investigation into the murder of bus drivers, which has become increasing frequent in recent years. (Guatemalan newspapers report that 84 bus drivers were killed in 2010, along with 33 ayudantes, who collect fares, and 48 passengers. From 1 January to 22 February 2011, 19 drivers were killed and 13 passengers.) Information collected during the investigation led Castresana to identify the prime factor perpetuating the killings as turf wars between rival gangs over protection money and which gang can collect it on which routes.

CICIG’s inquiry into the murder of a specific bus driver revealed that the PNC, though they conducted a generally good investigation, lied about the age of a witness. The witness, who was also a gang member, was 17, making his testimony inadmissible in court. The PNC, therefore, said he was 18 so that he could testify. However, the local PNC neglected to provide him with adequate protection as a witness, giving him $130 dollars and instructions to find a hotel for the weekend. The witness never reappeared. Incidents such as this prompted Castresana to insist on the need to develop cooperative agreements with other countries so important witnesses in cases in Guatemala can be sent to witness protection program outside the country.

Castresana continued on the theme of corruption in law enforcement in his discussion of an incident involving transit police officers. The officers allegedly kidnapped and tortured a young couple and their children, stealing their belongings and raping the woman before releasing the family. Castresana reports that since the man was a nephew of the former Minister of Defense, General Julio Balconi, he felt well-enough connected to file a complaint against the officers. In retaliation, some months later the officers kidnapped and murdered the woman and a friend. On hearing of this (in February 2011), Balconi denied that any relation of his had had any problems with the police. Given cases such as these, Castresana told Derham, in 08GUATEMALA621, dated 16 May 2008, that Guatemalan law enforcement agencies would need to be completely overhauled and rebuilt.

In these cables, Castresana depicts Guatemala’s state institutions, and especially the police, as corrupt and unable to protect the citizens of Guatemala from the high levels of violence that characterize daily life.

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