Guatemala Crippled by Crime

Guatemala is being crippled by lawlessness, with up to 20 murders taking place in the Central American country every day.

These are the findings of an investigation carried out by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which states that the average number of killings today is greater than during the country’s 1960-1996 civil war.

The report, which follows an ACN fact finding and project assessment trip to Guatemala, identifies several causes for the breakdown of law and order, including poverty, social exclusion, crime, the proliferation of gangs and drugs trafficking.

The investigation findings go on to emphasize the “the absence of justice that permeates the country.”

According to information received by ACN in Guatemala, there are 6,000 people behind bars out of a total population of 14 million. ACN reports that the Guatemala police are often accused by the public of “looking the other way” and are more concerned with protecting their own lives than enforcing the law.

Bishop Victor Hugo Palma of Escuintla stated that only three in every 100 murders are investigated by the authorities. Bishop Palma told the charity: “In a country where there are 18 deaths every day, where is the follow up to each case? Where is the police investigation?”

Fr. Prudencio Rodríguez, a Spanish missionary who has been in the country since 1973, is reported by ACN as saying: “Drugs trafficking, poverty, discrimination, racism, illiteracy, prostitution, all take place in Guatemala.”

Fr. Rodríguez also highlighted the role of the media in causing the country’s problems. He said, “We are not an isolated people, we are a people very much connected to the world and the role models that come to us via the so-called mass media… are not in keeping with ours. They make us wish for and dream of easy money at any cost, money made through extortion, through selling drugs, through other such things… all of which have brought tremendous violence to our society.”

The ACN report also describes the contribution made to the country by the Church’s social work, but also stresses that priests and religious working with the poor have suffered alongside them. It mentions the death of U.S. priest Fr. Lorenzo Rosebaugh, 74, who was murdered in May, near Lake Lachúa. He was traveling to Cantabal with four other priests when the car that they were in was intercepted by two masked men, who opened fire on the occupants. Fr. Rosebaugh died and another of his fellow priests was wounded.

According to his congregation, the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate: “[Fr Lorenzo Rosebaugh] threw himself into visiting the communities in the years prior to peace being signed when the communities where threatened by heavy repressive violence during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala.” According to Guatemalan priest Erasmo Vásques, Fr. Rosebaugh ’s death “is part of the violence that we live with here.”

Highlighting the problems the country faces, the Bishop of Escuintla mentioned the case of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a Guatemalan lawyer, who was shot and killed recently while riding his bike in Guatemala City. Mr. Rosenberg predicted his own murder two days before he died.

In a video message, Mr. Rosenberg said Guatemala’s president, Álvaro Colom, had sanctioned his murder and that the killers were the premier’s private secretary, Gustavo Alejos, and his partner, Gregorio Valdez.

The ACN report is consistent with other recent surveys of Guatemala. The U.S. Department of State’s March 2009 Guatemala report states in its introduction: “Violent crime is a serious concern due to endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal violence and dysfunctional law enforcement and judicial systems.”

Lamenting the breakdown of law and order in the country, Bishop Palma told ACN, “As we see it, justice delayed is justice denied.”

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