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Former US officials: Guatemala is on the verge of becoming a narco-state

By Sergio Morales Rodas
June 29, 2019

Security experts, all former officials of US Government security agencies. The United States visited Guatemala and shared their views on the situation the country is going through and they agreed on the concern about how organized crime has reached the institutions to the point that the country is soon to become a narco-state.

The ex-employees, who now work in strategic consultancies and risk analysis for the public and private sector, visited the country invited by the Freedom and Development Foundation where they gave a series of talks on the situation of regional security and drug trafficking, in the which involved multiple political and social leaders.

James Milford, former assistant administrator of the US Office of Drug Control. UU (DEA in English), said that currently the security of the region is compromised, and in the case of Guatemala the criminal structures have reached the public institutions in charge of security, including the military, police, prosecutors and even several circles of influence within the political parties.

He added that the recent landings of small planes in remote parts of the country show that the same population has been involved with these organized crime networks.

In this sense, they highlighted the need to address and review the causes for which many residents, mostly poor farmers and limited opportunities for economic development, end up involved in this flajelo, either renting their land for planting or giving another type of services.

When asked how close or far is Guatemala to become a narco-state, Milford said that the corruption of the police and the military has weakened the country's ability to handle the drug trafficking problem, so "I see that this is a narco-state "

"Corruption in the police, in the military and other officers has weakened this country's ability to handle the drug situation. At this point, I can see ... I see a narco-state, this is a narco-state, "Milford said.

They talk about Cicig

The experts also referred to the Government's decision to terminate the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in advance, and in that sense consider that the administration of EE. UU she is not happy with the departure of that UN mission.

This decision could even cause the country to be desertified at some point in the fight against drugs.

"If desertified, EE. UU it would freeze resources for Guatemala -the item- to support compliance with the law, "said Larry Holifield, former Regional Director of the (DEA) for Central America and Mexico.

When talking about how he visualizes the future for Guatemala after a convulsive electoral process in which mayors and deputies were elected who have accusations of crimes, some, and links to drug trafficking and organized crime, others, Holifield explained that the next government has to promote a strengthening of the rule of law, as well as gain the credibility of the population, and from a reliable Police.

Difficult to work with a corrupt country

Leslie Alessandra, who worked as an ex-DEA, noted that US agencies depend on the work done by local security forces and the judicial system of a country, which is "extremely difficult when these actors are involved in corruption."
He said that when they are in a situation where institutions are not reliable, they have to become very "creative" to investigate cases of drug trafficking.

"Sometimes we have to associate with other countries that are more favorable and are willing to work with us -but- we will generally work regardless of what happens in the country. It becomes complicated when the host country has a corrupt police and a corrupt judicial system, "said Alessandra.

Working in a country where many of the key actors have been brought to justice is also complicated.

The former DEA said that building a case for drug trafficking, not just those involving members of a lower level of a cartel is very difficult and consumes many US resources, "so only what we can do will be done".

The experts said that the US government agencies. UU they do not work alone under the laws of that country, but they also rely on the legislations of the host nations, which adds difficulties to the research processes.

For his part, Holifield said that "There is a bad perception that the DEA only comes in to take care of everything. That does not work like that, we get our intelligence from a huge number of sources, those sources are not available."

Institutions must change

Holifield explained that US agencies can collaborate with the transfer of resources and training to national entities, but that the main responsibility of the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime is the National Civil Police.

As an example, he cited that EE. UU It has assigned some 30 officers of the DEA in Guatemala when the number of PNC agents reaches 38 thousand.

If the Guatemalan institutions do not change, there will continue to be cases of judges, prosecutors, military or police involved in corruption cases.

In that sense, the expert commented that corruption in Guatemala "is systemic" and must be stopped. He recalled how in the Ministry of the Interior last year there were dismissals of police chiefs who had worked for years in the institution and who had somehow gained confidence.

In their various presentations, the former US officials agreed on the need to strengthen the PNC and meet the needs of police officers, starting with the economic ones and guaranteeing security for their families.


When talking about solutions or alternatives so that Guatemala does not finally become a narco-state, Holifield mentioned that the United States itself went through processes in which the mafias reached the police in some states such as New York and Chicago, but from there A process of professionalization of these institutions began, with officers who were professionalized and educated, but above all, those whose income was improved and who earned a living wage.

"If you do not have the level of resources that can be paid by drug traffickers, the police will become corrupt," said Holifield, for whom all Guatemalans have the responsibility of building a better society; for example, he quoted the press as saying that in his opinion he should unmask and expose corrupt politicians and officials.

"These politicians who are connected with drug trafficking come as Robin Hood saying they are going to save the world and 'vote for me'. That has to stop, "said the former US official.

One of the main conclusions expressed by the former officials is the need for Guatemalan society, with a leading role of private actors pushing and supporting public officials, to take a more active role in making the "empire of the law".


The experts who visited Guatemala also referred to the massive migration of Central Americans to the US.

Milford said migration is a "massive problem" that has surpassed the capabilities of US institutions, both physical and financial. He added that, due to existing regulations, when agents find people who intend to enter the country illegally, they must prevent it.

The problem, he emphasized, is that there are international networks of traffickers who dedicate themselves to generating false expectations with migrants, who even force them to make the risky trip.

"They sell them the idea that arriving and staying in the United States will be simple and without complications, but when they arrive at the border they find a very different reality," Milford emphasized.

The current fiscal year of EE. UU has broken all the records on migration. From October 2018 to May, the Border Patrol accounted for 676,315 arrests of people.

Migration is a growing phenomenon that is conditioning relations between Guatemala and the US. UU This week the Secretary of Internal Security visited the country to meet with the Governor, Enrique Degenhart, with whom they talked about the possibility of Guatemala becoming a country of asylum. Also that the country practices DNA tests to migrant minors from El Salvador and Honduras as a measure to counteract human trafficking.