Guatemala has a history of dictatorship, military violence, and civil war that dates back to the 1960s. This array of problems, along with high levels of poverty and strong social inequality, has led to high levels of human insecurity and migration. Added to this are the gaps in education, employment, and low literacy levels experienced by the most vulnerable groups – women, youth, and indigenous people. Efforts to decrease human insecurity have been in place since 2014 with the enactment of the Community Security Police Model (MOPSIC). This joint effort by the Guatemalan government and several international agencies aims to use data driven programs to reduce homicides and violent crime. Up until now, however, it has not been entirely successful. Guatemala’s historically militarized police force and subsequent public lack of trust in the police is considered part of the problem. Another reason cited for the program’s limited success so far is its uneven deployment throughout the country. This matches the problematic patchy presence of police forces throughout the territory.
Perceptions of security and insecurity
Knowing how Guatemalans perceive insecurity is important to determine what needs addressed to enable people to feel safe in their own communities. Specific grievances reported by Guatemalans include high rates of homicides and the relentless extortion of small businesses by gangs. Business owners pay periodic fees to gang-members in order to prevent them from assault, either by the gang performing the extortion, or as a form of ‘protection’ against other gangs. Sexual harassment of women is also commonly reported. This includes cases of sexual assaults, domestic violence, and offences such as gropings in the streets. Youths, on the other hand, report feeling insecure due to bullying and discrimination based on race and socioeconomic differences. Verbal and physical violence by peers, related to drug abuse and gang recruitment, is also frequent among youths. Finally, Guatemalans report feeling insecure about ownership of their own lands and homes. These concerns are in regards to powerful actors encroaching upon communities and limiting access to assets such as land, water, and energy. There are also reports on the use of force to remove land from Guatemalans. Despite these considerable concerns, some security options are available to Guatemalans.
There are four main security providers in Guatemala – two official, one private, and one illegitimate. The official ones are the National Police (PNC) and the military. The military sometimes works in conjunction with the PNC since the latter is currently weak and underfunded. In addition to these two providers, there are also private security companies for hire to protect homes, businesses, and individuals. These private companies, however, have been criticized for allegedly hindering efforts to reduce insecurity. Their business depends on high levels of insecurity, so some people believe these companies do nothing to reduce insecurity at best, and maybe even support crime at worst. Finally, we have the illegitimate security provider – the ‘renta’ system – previously mentioned as an extortion system enforced by the gangs. Although most see this as a form of insecurity, in poor and distant rural areas where the PNC is essentially absent, the ‘renta’ system is often the only protection mechanism available against gang violence.
Status of Community-Oriented Policing in Guatemala
Guatemala has made efforts to move towards a community-oriented policing model, as evidenced by the enactment of the MOPSIC program in 2014. However, its success has been limited due to some fundamental problems afflicting the country. Particularly damaging is the uneven presence of police forces in the territory, as well as the lack of trust in the police due to its militarized history. Overall, one may conclude that there is a lack of clarity on the concept of community-oriented policing in Guatemala, along with how to manage and apply it within communities. Nevertheless, one can hope that ICT4COP research will report positive changes in the situation as the MOPSIC principles become increasingly accepted and its methodology more clearly developed.
Source: ICT4COP Research, NMBU