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Guatemala News Wrap Up

The War on Drugs has been in full force this month, with the Guatemalan military locating and dismantling one clandestine cocaine laboratory in El Palmar, San Marcos, and also arresting two alleged members of the Zetas (one of Mexico’s most powerful drug gangs) in Chiquimula.

There has been growing tensions between an expanding military and the general population: the military proposed this month an addition of two new brigades of 500 men, to be based in San Juan Sacatepéquez and Petén (on top of two other new brigades that Otto Perez recently announced he was planning to introduce). However, the residents of San Juan Sacatepéquez haven’t taken too lightly to the idea of an expanded military presence in their backyards, and organised a 6 thousand person strong protest against the military, carrying placards with slogans like: ‘we need teachers, not soldiers’. The protesters are arguing that the expanded military presence is using the war on drugs as an excuse for criminalisation and repression so that to ensure safe exploitation for mining and forestry companies, as well the plans for the construction of a new highway.

The United Nations recently released a report detailing statistics on the security situation in Guatemala, without wanting to scare our readers, here are a few – 81.7% of homicides have been committed with guns; 6,498 homicides were documented in 2009, to 5,960 in 2010 and 5,681 in 2011; the highest homicide rate is in Zacapa, with 93 per 10,000 inhabitants; there has been a 30% reduction in homicides in Alta Verapaz and Sololá since 2010, but a 50% increase in Totonicapan in 2011.

Authorities in Sololá have reported that pollution in Lake Atitlan is on the rise and are advising against anyone drinking the water.

Academic, business and social sectors have been criticising the lack of progress during the first 6 months of implementation of the government’s Agenda for Change 2012-2016. The government’s five strategies for change are in democratic security and justice, competitive economic development, productive and social infrastructure, social inclusion and sustainable rural development. However, the government’s progress on all fronts have been criticised due to persistent high levels of crime (in a recent survey 61% of people still rate crime as the country’s number 1 problem); ongoing social conflicts over areas such as mining; poor results on boosting economic competitively, reducing unemployment and enhancing economic opportunities; and confrontations over the government’s highly-politicised agricultural programmes.

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