HomeNewsBriefGuatemala Self-Defense Groups Reminder of Security Concerns
BRIEF

Guatemala Self-Defense Groups Reminder of Security Concerns

EL SALVADOR / 25 JUL 2018 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

Authorities in Guatemala fear that self-defense groups operating in response to a lack of state presence may turn into criminal organizations engaged in illicit activities, a dynamic authorities throughout the region have confronted.

The presence of a so-called self-defense group wielding high-powered weapons in the city of Villa Nueva, just south of the capital Guatemala City, has authorities on high alert for fear that they may become criminalized, Prensa Libre reported.

Fieldwork conducted by InSight Crime in Guatemala showed that authorities worry such groups may take on criminal markets and lives of their own as has been seen in other examples around the region.

The group, which has allegedly been organizing for the last 11 years, reportedly armed themselves and took to patrolling the streets after gang members murdered two individuals on July 16, according to Prensa Libre.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

Members of the self-defense group admit to carrying weapons, and they say that they are legally owned. They claim to not charge extortion fees to their fellow citizens in exchange for "protection," unlike the gangs in the area.

However, Guatemalan journalist Sofía Menchú told InSight Crime that under Guatemalan law, civilians cannot carry such high-powered weapons. 

"There is a lack of state presence, but they [the self-defense groups] seem suspicious because they use 'long' weapons that are usually used by the army or police," she said.

Guatemala is consistently among Latin America’s most violent countries alongside it’s Northern Triangle neighbors El Salvador and Honduras. Specifically, Menchú told InSight Crime that Villa Nueva is a municipality with a "very strong criminal history." That, and the fact that there are many poor areas in Villa Nueva, Menchú says, is why "a large part of its youth population is involved in gangs."

InSight Crime Analysis

The presence of self-defense groups is a regional phenomenon throughout Latin America that other governments confronting serious security issues have had to face.

Authorities in El Salvador, for example, have struggled to establish a presence in and take back control of areas under the control of the country’s notoriously violent gangs. In response, self-defense groups have emerged to try and restore order. Officials have even considered arming these groups to help fight crime, while the groups themselves have advocated for legal recognition.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Vigilantes

However, these groups have at times morphed into more shadowy death squad-like groups that have been linked to extrajudicial killings of alleged gang members, underscoring the criminal risks that come with legitimizing such groups.

Authorities in Mexico have faced similar obstacles. Self-defense groups have surged across the country over the last decade amid an uptick in organized crime-related violence. But the government’s eventual recognition of such groups has had serious consequences. These groups have also been known to form links with organized crime groups and engaged in illicit criminal activities of their own.

Colombia has in the past also approved the creation of similar citizen security groups in an effort to reinforce the fight against crime and violence. But these groups had the opposite effect. Today they run shadowy criminal networks and charge residents for their “security” tax, further contributing to insecurity.

The presence of self-defense groups is a reminder that broader security problems have not yet been adequately addressed by authorities.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 19 JAN 2018

Record highs, all-time lows, and a few surprises -- 2017 proved a remarkable year in terms of homicide levels for…

MEXICO / 26 MAY 2011

A shootout between rival drug trafficking gangs left at least 28 people dead on a highway near the town of…

COVID AND CRIME / 4 MAR 2021

Illegally buying endangered species via social media has grown increasingly convenient in Mexico, especially given its feeble environmental controls and…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…

THE ORGANIZATION

Exploring Climate Change and Organized Crime

10 SEP 2021

In July, InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley moderated a panel for the Climate Reality Project's regional series of workshops for young climate activists in the Americas. The week-long event…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gearing Up a New Class of Interns

3 SEP 2021

InSight Crime is readying its newest class of interns – from universities in Europe and the Americas – to begin investigative work on a number of high-impact projects. For the…

THE ORGANIZATION

Tracking Environmental Crime in the Amazon

27 AUG 2021

Next week, InSight Crime launches an investigation – conducted with Brazilian think-tank the Igarapé Institute – on the sophisticated organized crime structures and armed groups that…