GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales admitted on Tuesday the existence of a threat to national security and warned that he will not allow criminal groups to disrupt the peace after rioting imprisoned gang members killed four prison guards.
The president said at a press conference that the National Security Council will declare itself to be in “permanent session” to undertake planning to neutralize the groups that have perpetrated violence against the public.
Accompanied by Vice President Jafeth Cabrera and his government ministers, Morales delivered a message to the public and later explained that his Security Cabinet detected the threat when inmates at the Etapa II juvenile prison took control of the facility on Monday.
Morales congratulated the National Civil Police (PNC) for its operation to rescue four guards whom the prisoners had taken hostage on Sunday, but he said that “life was always the priority” along with dialogue.
After the action, alleged members of the Barrio 18 gang attacked at least six police stations killing three officers and wounding six more.
The president said that operations were mounted to “respond to those threats” and so far police have arrested 13 people and seized a number of weapons, including rifles.
The government announced that in the coming hours it will convene a “high level” group consisting of the heads of the three government branches with the aim of “urgently” attending to the issue of children and teenagers, who comprise about a third of the country’s citizens.
The group of top officials will also coordinate efforts among the three government branches to guarantee that children and teens enjoy their full spectrum of rights, mainly the rights to life, health, education, food and recreation.
The riot at Etapa II came just days after a fire at a children’s shelter in San Jose Pinula, killed 40 girls and teens and injured several more.
Some of the young people at that shelter evidently started the fire themselves to protest physical and sexual assaults they claimed to have suffered there.
Morales announced on Tuesday that he had instructed the Social Welfare Secretariat (SBS), which is responsible for the country’s children’s centers, to implement comprehensive reform in favor of the children and teens, including ensuring that appropriate infrastructure is in place and suitable personnel employed there.
He also said he will ask the judiciary for its support in transferring the children to suitable centers and the teens to jails within the Penitentiary System.
Morales also demanded that “the full weight of the law” be brought to bear against anyone found responsible for the deaths of the guards or police officers attacked recently.
Twenty members of Barrio 18 will be prosecuted for the guards’ murders, after being charged on Tuesday in court in the capital.