Vigilante violence in which five people were killed and a sixth was left gravely wounded sent shock waves through Guatemalan society and sparked calls on Monday for an effective security and justice system in a society where violence is rampant.
"We do not justify this behavior because it is inhumane, but more than the action, we are concerned by and regret the causes that lead people to these kinds of actions, born of their desperation and absolute lack of trust in government institutions," said the Reverend Vitalino Similox, a Mayan evangelical minister.
Similox, a member of the Evangelical Church Conference of Guatemala and of the Oecumenical Forum for Peace, said that Guatemala's police as well as its judicial and legal institutions have lost the trust of citizens. He called for the government to find a solution to the dire situation.
On Saturday, thousands of enraged citizens attacked a gang of alleged bandits, accusing them of robbing a man who was in town from the US visiting relatives. Villagers in the indigenous community of Cruz Chich beat the victims with sticks and then burned them alive.
The government's security Cabinet, led by Interior Minister Carlos Vielman, discussed the lynching during a regular Monday meeting and ordered a protective police force to Joyabaj, the area in Quiche Province where the lynching occurred.
"The problems of violence and citizen insecurity take on a greater impact in Guatemala as a consequence of the perception of insecurity on the part of citizens and the lack of credibility of institutions," Deputy Interior Minister Silvia Vasquez said on Monday
She said that the civil police had lost a great deal of credibility after some of its officers were linked to criminal actions.
The Human Rights Prosecutor's Office said that last year authorities registered 17 lynching attempts across Guatemala, with five dead and 12 wounded. In 2003, the figure was 18 lynching attempts with 14 deaths. Those numbers were much lower than the period from 2000 to 2002, with an average of 147 lynchings and close to 100 fatalities per year. Most of those cases took place in remote indigenous communities.
Earlier this month, the Central American Institute for Political Studies issued a report accusing Guatemalan authorities of doctoring crime figures to minimize problems. According to the institute, police only record 13 percent of violent acts that occur.
Violence has also been unleashed against women, with hundreds of cases of women being murdered going unresolved. The UN rapporteur on violence against women made a special trip last year to Guatemala and El Salvador, where she described the murder rate against women as alarming.
Authorities said the number of women murdered this year is 247.
Since 2000, when figures about women murders began to be kept, the number of murders has risen. In 2000 there were 60 homicides of women recorded; in 2001 there were 303, 317 in 2002, 383 in 2003 and 527 murders last year.