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Many skeptical about Guatemala's new president

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 20th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Many are skeptical about the claims of Guatemala's new president, retired general Otto Pérez Molina. Making campaign promises to deal with crime with a firm hand, or "mano dura" is giving rise to hopes of a more civil society. Still, many question his appointments to various task forces.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "We are giving him the benefit of the doubt, but in view of the appointments that are in the pipeline, we believe that he is going to apply reactive measures that may result in abuses," Arturo Chub of Security in Democracy says.

Taking office January 14 for a four-year term, the rightwing president has committed himself to "work for peace, justice and comprehensive security." Two days later he announced changes in the interior ministry, in charge of domestic security, creating three task forces. The committees focus on violent robbery, extortion and killings by hired assassins, the leading crimes that terrorize Guatemalan society.

Pérez also appointed a new chief of police, which has been severely discredited due to large numbers of police officers participating in illegal activities, such as drug trafficking.

"These are reactive actions, but there is still no clear policy for coordination between the Public Prosecutor's Office, which carries out criminal prosecutions, and the Judicial Branch, the highest judicial authority," Chub said.

Chub expresses concern about the absence of a crime prevention policy, like the "Open Schools" program that was instituted by former social democratic president Álvaro Colom that opened the doors of public schools on weekends for educational, recreational and artistic activities.

"The program created opportunities for the socialization and training of young people who have few options; some places lack any public spaces, and using schools is an alternative option," Chub said.

Chub says he favors a program for developing a culture of respect for the rule of law, "because as a society we have lost these values, and we behave as if it were normal to break the law, physically assault people, pay (a bribe) for a driving license, and so on."

Guatemala is ranked among the 14 most violent countries in the world. According to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) established in 2008 by the United Nations and the Guatemalan government, 98 percent of crimes committed in this country of 14 million people remain unpunished, making Guatemala a paradise for criminals.

The Interior Ministry reported this month that in 2011 there were 5,632 homicides in Guatemala, equivalent to a murder rate of 38.6 per 100,000 populations. The murder rate is much higher than the already high average rate in Latin America, at over 29 homicides per 100,000 populations.

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