GuateSec: Drug War militarization in Central America

GuateSec is intended to provide a regular focus on issues relating to security and justice in Guatemala and the surrounding region, offering commentary and synthesis of key news reports and expert analysis.

With the U.S. Marines’ “Operation Hammer” in Guatemala reportedly finalized and “Operation Anvil” in Honduras in limbo, where does Central America now stand in the Drug War, and what developments are on the horizon? In “Strategies of a New Cold War,” journalist Dawn Paley contemplates these questions and gives a comprehensive review of the U.S. military’s historic and contemporary presence in Guatemala. Paley’s research, also presented in the radio documentary “Communities in the Crosshairs,” draws on interviews with Guatemalan and U.S. experts who warn that the drug war is an extension of Cold War counterinsurgency logic, with increased militarization threatening the renewed repression of local communities in territories that are contested not only by states and drug traffickers, but also transnational corporations:

Indeed, if the drug war in Mexico and Guatemala continues to play out as it has in Colombia, the notion of what “success” means in this war must be expanded to include the provision of new opportunities and guarantees for investors and transnational corporations, whose operations may also eventually benefit from increasingly militarized police forces and a beefed up prison system capable of controlling dissent within a “democratic” law and order framework.

Paley’s article also sketches out the extensive overlap between military and narco actors, such as the Guatemalan military’s direct control of the drug trade during the internal armed conflict of the 1970s and 80s, and by mafias run by former military officials in the post-war period of the 1990s and early 2000s. In recent years hegemony over the drug trade was violently disputed between powerful Guatemalan families and Mexican organizations pushed south by the drug war in Mexico, including the Zetas—the infamous para-military cartel made up of U.S. Marine-trained Mexican and Guatemalan special forces. With the reported fracturing of the Zetas due to deaths and internal power struggles, and multiple arrests and extraditions of high profile-traffickers in Guatemala during 2012—not to mention the return of a PRI administration in Mexico—the current balance of narco forces in Guatemala is in question. According to InSight Crime, a Zeta leader was recently targeted for execution in a bloody attack in a cosmetic surgery clinic in Guatemala City.

The recent arrest in Honduras of Juan Luis Gonzalez, a former Guatemalan congressman with dictator Ríos Montt’s far-right FRG party, on suspicion of involvement in meth trafficking illustrates the complex relationships between political figures, state functionaries, security forces, private corporations, and criminal actors. Fallout from this case implicates Aerocentro, a Guatemalan aviation company which reportedly provided planes and pilots for the presidential administrations of Otto Pérez Molina and Álvaro Colom in Guatemala, and Mel Zelaya in Honduras. Others arrested in the sting include a pilot linked to Guatemala’s Civil Aeronautics agency, a Mexican ex-Federale identified as a Sinaloa operative, a former Honduran public prosecutor, and Honduran police and migration agents. Pérez Molina has suspended flights with Aerocentro, but it seems unlikely that this story will be going away soon.

Finally, as a reminder to take all news stories with a grain of salt, even when it’s not Dia de los inocentes, Spanish readers should enjoy El Periodico’s spoof report on impending marijuana legalization in Guatemala. The story takes some clear digs at the Patriot Party administration and Pérez Molina’s proposals for decriminalization, reporting that the new “pilot program” will begin on January 15th (the first anniversary of Pérez Molina’s presidency). The story claims that funds from the nationalized sale of joints will be used to fund lavish “Baldetti-style” emergency housing for earthquake victims, mocking Vice-President Roxana Baldetti’s self-promotion following the San Marcos earthquake earlier this year, and reports that the government is in “talks” with dealers, a possible reference to rumored negotiations for an El Salvador-stlye truce between urban gangs. Following the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado in November, and proposals for the same in Uruguay, decriminalization policies are more likely than ever to be on the agenda across the hemisphere. What impact these policies will have on violence, corruption, incarceration and militarization is yet to be seen.

About cascadiasolidaria

Human rights and solidarity activist from Cascadia, North America, writing about issues of justice and security in Guatemala and Central America from a perspective of solidarity with human rights and social movements.
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