HomeNewsBriefProposed Anti-Gang Law in Guatemala Another Flawed ‘Iron Fist’ Policy?
BRIEF

Proposed Anti-Gang Law in Guatemala Another Flawed ‘Iron Fist’ Policy?

BARRIO 18 / 3 MAY 2017 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

Legislators in Guatemala have proposed a new bill aimed at attacking the country’s gangs by increasing fines and prison sentences for gang members. But how the draft law will be implemented and how effective it will be remains unclear.

The bill, proposed by Felipe Alejos and Juan Ramón Lau of Guatemala’s Todos political party, would punish those who join gangs and commit crimes with one to four years of jail time and a fine of between 20,000 and 35,000 quetzales (roughly between $2,700 and $4,700), Prensa Libre reported. 

These penalties will triple for those who are found to have forced minors to join the gangs. 

For gang leaders, however, the punishment is harsher. According to Prensa Libre, those who head the gangs’ operations would face a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years, as well as a 50,000 quetzal fine (about $6,800). 

The bill would also punish those who “promote, finance and directly benefit” from the gang’s criminal structures with a 6 to 12-year prison sentence.

The proposed legislation would also prohibit guerilla groups, Prensa Libre reported.

InSight Crime Analysis 

The new “anti-mara” bill, if written into law in Guatemala, may be very difficult to implement. The law may also not only fail to produce results, but could make a bad situation worse, as other similar policies have in the region. 

Since the early 2000s, Central America’s Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — have relied on “iron fist” policies to combat the region’s criminal groups. In October 2006, for example, El Salvador initiated the Special Law Against Acts of Terrorism. And in 2016, legislators in El Salvador passed anti-gang measures that classified gangs as terrorist organizations. 

However, these policies have been largely ineffective. Most recently, a report from the International Crisis Group highlighted the failure of such approaches in the Northern Triangle, and called for a “less repressive” approach to the gang problem in Central America. 

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

The proposed bill in Guatemala has many similarities to the laws implemented in El Salvador, such as tougher prison sentences and treating the gangs as terrorists groups, La Hora reported. Zoel Franco, of the Institute of Comparative Studies in Criminal Sciences of Guatemala (Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala – IECCPG) explained to Prensa Libre how El Salvador’s use of anti-gang laws should serve as a cautionary tale for Guatemala. 

“The same people who proposed the law in El Salvador recognized that it had not been effective,” he said. “On the contrary, what was achieved was a restructuring of the gangs, perfecting their criminal activities.”

Furthermore, Edgar Celada, a security analyst at the Institute on National Problems at the University of San Carlos (Instituto de Problemas Nacionales de la Universidad de San Carlos – IPNUSAC) told La Hora that the bill was an “authoritarian” approach to the issue. 

Crucially, there is still internal debate within the Guatemalan government about what constitutes a gang member, raising the question of what parameters would be used in arresting members of these criminal organizations. Arguably, this proposed bill is another flawed effort to criminalize a segment of the population that authorities and legislators are having a hard time identifying in the first place.

Difficulties with identifying gang members and far-reaching efforts to detain them may also further contribute to problems of overcrowding that have plagued Latin America’s prison systems. The region’s jails have become a “prime incubator” for organized crime, and it is probable that Guatemala’s proposed bill would feed that dynamic further by increasing the size of the prison population.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

DRUG POLICY / 24 MAY 2019

In late March, President Donald Trump followed up on his threat to suspend US aid to El Salvador, Honduras and…

CRIMINAL MIGRATION / 4 FEB 2013

Honduras' defense minister believes that Mexican cartel the Zetas have established a significant presence in this vulnerable central American nation,…

COLOMBIA / 2 JUN 2020

The decision to send US troops into Colombia to help against drug trafficking is a troubling one, whether as part…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…