Thu, Feb 26, 2009 - Page 7 News List

UN: Latin America needs help with drug traffickers

CLANDESTINE GROUPS The peace agreement that ended the civil war in Guatemala did not succeed in dismantling militant cells, which have turned to crime


Guatemala and other Central American nations need urgent international help to confront the increasingly dangerous presence of Mexican and Colombian drug cartels, the head of a UN-backed commission investigating organized crime in Guatemala said on Tuesday.

“Latin America has no time,” UN Assistant Secretary-General Carlos Castresana warned. “This is a situation of emergency.”

Mexican drug cartels are increasingly using Central American nations to move drugs, and are dealing directly with Colombian cartels to obtain cocaine, which is also produced in Peru and Bolivia. Guatemala, with a lightly populated 950km border with Mexico, has become an especially important transit point for cocaine headed north to the US.

“The presence of the Mexican cartels, the Colombian cartels, in Guatemala territory is increasingly dangerous,” Castresana said.

He said countries which suffered from armed conflict like Guatemala, which was engulfed in civil war from 1960 to 1996, have “weak institutions [and] even with the best possible will of the members of the government ... they need to be helped by the international community” to confront and prosecute the drug traffickers.

“If they are left alone, clearly they are unable to do the job by themselves,” Castresana said.

The situation in Guatemala is “much worse” compared with Costa Rica or Panama, he said, “but Honduras and El Salvador are in a very similar situation” because they have organized crime and juvenile gangs that are very dangerous.

What makes the situation in Guatemala worse, however, is that after the civil war ended, the peace agreement that was signed did not succeed in dismantling clandestine groups that permeated every institution in the country, Castresana said.

After 1992 peace accords ended El Salvador’s bloody civil war, “those groups were, in fact, dismantled — and in Guatemala [they] were not, so they have become [involved in] organized crime,” he said.

“The difference today is that in El Salvador, not being a perfect country, you have a response of the judiciary in 50 percent of cases, and in Guatemala in 2 percent of cases. So there is a difference — not in the criminal activity, but in the response of authorities,” Castresana said.

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