GUATEMALA CITY – Homicides declined 16.95 percent in Guatemala in the first seven months of the year compared with the same period in 2009, a leading human rights organization said Wednesday.
The number of murders fell from 2,235 to 1,911, a leader of the Mutual Support Group, or GAM, Mario Polanco, told a press conference in the capital.
He added, however, that the reduction in killings has made little impact on the perceptions of a Guatemalan public shocked by several high-profile atrocities in recent months, such as the appearance of severed heads in Guatemala City and the burning of a bus with the passengers still aboard.
Those crimes “generate terror in the population” and the government’s response is to “accuse some group that criticizes it of organizing processes of destabilization,” Polanco said.
“What is missing in Guatemala is a comprehensive security policy,” the GAM official said, while endorsing the use of the army for law enforcement provided it is “transparent and temporary.”
The central province of Guatemala, which includes the capital, is the most violent region in the Central American country, with 941 killings in the first seven months of 2010, according to GAM’s figures.
That total includes 81 bus drivers and 34 driver’s assistants, the GAM report notes, with 17 drivers slain last month alone, nearly double the number for July 2009.
Violence directed at transit workers and – a new development – bus passengers is blamed on youth gangs that seek to extort protection payments from drivers and company owners.
GAM, a group founded by relatives of people who were “disappeared” during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war, said calls to reinstate the death penalty as a way to deter crime are misguided.
“As long as we have high levels of impunity ... the execution of a handful of people will serve no purpose,” GAM said.
Statistics compiled by the U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala indicate that 98 percent of violent crimes in the Central American country go unpunished.
Guatemala, a nation of roughly 14 million people, suffered more than 6,500 murders in 2009, which is not far short of last year’s homicide total in neighboring Mexico, with 107 million residents. EFE