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Meyer: Guatemala's Violence Part of Larger Public Security Problem in Central America

Interviewee: Maureen Meyer
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson
September 5, 2007

Some forty political candidates or senior party officials have been murdered in the political campaigning ahead of Guatemala’s elections on September 8. The rash of violence highlights problems with organized crime that afflict the entire region. Maureen Meyer, associate for Mexico and Central America at the Washington Office on Latin America, says it’s difficult to separate the recent political violence from the “generalized climate of violence” in Guatemala. She says the prevalence of violence at the local level indicates organized crime has, to some extent, infiltrated the political system.

While neighboring countries such as El Salvador have implemented mano duro, or hard fist, approaches to public security, Meyer says that the public sees this strong approach as necessary, but there is no evidence such strategies are effective. Instead, she suggests a more integral strategy that “clearly defines the role of the police and the military” and looks at social problems as well as issues of impunity, the lack of criminals being prosecuted for their crimes. The United States presented a regional security plan for Central America this summer, and Meyer says this plan “could have some very positive aspects depending on what the Central American countries decide to prioritize regarding their requests to the United States for financial assistance.”

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