After easing restrictions due to the pandemic, in Guatemala violence increased, with a balance of almost 2,400 homicides as of November.

In 2021, Guatemalans suffered an increase in violence and crimes against the life and property of citizens. For security analysts, this phenomenon could be explained as a “rebound” effect after the end of the cessation of economic and social activities imposed by the pandemic during 2020.

The last months reflect that the return to social and economic activities took place in an environment of insecurity and danger. Proof of this is the increase in the number of homicides in 2021, compared to the previous year.

In the months of January to November, 2,354 homicides were reported nationwide. This figure exceeds that of 2020 by 227 cases and the departments in which the main increases occurred are Guatemala, Santa Rosa and Sacatepéquez, according to statistics from the Technical Secretariat of the National Security Council (STCNS). That also caused the corresponding rate to rise from 15.8 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020, to 16.4 in 2021.

Another statistic that also reflects the increase in violence is the number of autopsies associated with criminal acts carried out by the National Institute of Forensic Sciences (Inacif). While in 2020 there were 3,161 between January and November, in 2021 3,715 were reported in the same months. That is, 554 more.

And the rate of injuries in violent acts per 100,000 inhabitants also grew from 15.1 in 2020, to 15.4 in 2021.

Other crimes

This year there was also a greater recurrence of crimes against property. According to the STCNS, 278 residential robberies were registered, which is equivalent to 66 more cases than in 2020. The most affected departments were Guatemala, Escuintla and Chiquimula.

Similarly, vehicle theft went from 1,285 in 2020 to 1,597 in 2021, that is, 312 more.

An image that could explain the increase in violence and robberies is that of a pressure cooker that releases pressure, explains Edgar Celada, a security consultant.

“Imagine a pressure cooker being released. We had a period of restrictions on social mobility and economic activities, which had an impact on the rate of violence. By uncovering the pot, all the buildup that was contained last year exploded, ”he said.

One worrying aspect is that while insecurity worsens, there is no strengthening of the investigative capacities of the National Civil Police (PNC) or the Public Ministry (MP), he warned.

He affirmed that insecurity is not only tackled with reactive actions, but also the development of the population must be sought. As long as this does not happen, the problem will remain in effect.

Francisco Rivas, former Minister of the Interior, highlighted that Guatemala has made efforts to maintain a downward trend in homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in the last decade. Proof of this is that while in 2008 there were around 45, today that statistic is below 20.

Regarding the increase in violence this year, Rivas considers that different aspects must be evaluated. “They can be outbreaks of crime in some department, municipality or region of the country and that generates an upward trend. It could also be due to the states of emergency and siege that the government has approved, while other territories are neglected, “he said.

The former minister is also concerned that the investigation and persecution of hitman gangs have weakened. Neither have criminal groups such as Barrio 18 or Mara Salvatrucha, responsible for a large number of criminal acts, been prosecuted as would be expected.

“I do not see a clear policy to address violence in general. Most of all, there have been reactive actions to sources of violence in the country and they have become more concerned about the issue of the pandemic that affects us; but preventive and social measures that seek a reduction in violence, there are none, “he commented.

Mario Polanco, director of the Mutual Support Group, added that in recent years, security strategies have weakened and police structures that were created in previous governments and that were efficient in counteracting crime have been dismantled.

“Before there were task forces that had a presence in red zones, markets and tourism. Tourism is going to recover soon and it would be painful for visitors to be victims of assaults or other criminal acts, “he said.

The interviewee considers that the budget of the Ministry of the Interior should be increased to improve the equipment of the PNC to be able to work on police intelligence. “We must find a way to professionalize the PNC, but not only with courses of a few months, but also with degrees. Many of the lawyers who graduate from the universities could occupy important positions in the PNC to guarantee that it acts within the legal framework, ”said Polanco.

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