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

KNIGHTS TEMPLAR / 28 JAN 2014

Self-defense forces in Michoacan, Mexico have signed an agreement with federal and regional authorities, a move that raises the specter…

AYOTZINAPA / 24 SEP 2015

The weak sentence handed out to Rodrigo Vallejo, son of the former governor of the state…

CONTRABAND / 20 OCT 2020

A massive robbery of nearly 38,000 cancer drugs from a warehouse in Mexico City points to a growing sophistication in…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…