Criminal Organizations and Illicit Trafficking in Guatemala’s Border Communities
Contraband routes in Guatemala traditionally controlled by local groups are coming ever more under the control of the Mexican cartels. Around half of the nation’s territory is believed to be under the control of criminal organizations.2 Local criminal organizations have long penetrated the Guatemalan police, army, courts and government, and Guatemala’s gangs are extremely violent. However, the Mexican cartels with their financial resources, military grade weapons, and reputation for indiscriminate killing and brutality have elevated these threats. Today Guatemala and its neighbors Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador, have homicide rates among the highest in the world. Guatemala’s murder rate is as high as those during the worst years of the civil wars in the 1980’s. Impunity for traffickers and murderers is the rule, not the exception.
Drug trafficking networks operate most intensely in communities along or near smuggling routes, many of which are located in border regions. Guatemala has more than 800 miles of borders which cross forests and mountain ranges and are seldom monitored or even marked. The communities close to the borders tend to be rural and engaged in subsistence farming often with little or no government presence in the form of clinics, schools, or police. Without the presence of state institutions, these communities are left vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of criminal groups which use a variety of tactics, including not only threats and violence but also the distribution of money, public services, and other benefits to obtain compliance, acceptance, and even the support of local residents.