Central American drug war, crime top agenda at regional summit
US Secretary of State Clinton and presidents from around Central America are convening in Guatemala City to determine ways to boost security and contain the sway of regional mafias.
Guatemala City and Mexico City
Central America has always been a so-called “highway north” for drugs en route to the US. And with a history of civil strife, weak institutions, and staggering impunity, the isthmus has struggled for decades to maintain stability. But with pressure mounting on drug traffickers in the past decade in Colombia and Mexico, Central America has found itself swept into a new era of violence.Skip to next paragraph
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Now leaders are trying to forge a security plan for a region that many say has been overlooked by the billion-dollar US aid packages provided for Colombia and Mexico. Presidents from Central America are expected to converge at a security conference hosted by the Central American Integration System (SICA) in Guatemala City today. Guests include the presidents of Colombia and Mexico, as well as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I would call it a crisis, especially among the three most critical countries, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras,” says Donald J. Planty, the managing director of The Emergence Group in Washington and former US ambassador to Guatemala.
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New attention on Central America is not just an effort to salvage judicial systems and police forces increasingly overwhelmed by drug violence. Leaders say they must contain the sway of mafias in order to achieve overall success against crime in Latin America.
“The biggest neighboring countries in the region have serious concerns about Guatemala, above all,” says Manfredo Marroquin, president of the board at Accion Ciudadana, a Guatemalan democracy-building organization formed after the Guatemalan peace accord in 1996. “It could help a lot for Guatemala to realize what a threat it is to the region.”
In the past decade, it was gangs like the 18th Street Gang (M-18) and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) that dominated security issues in the region. But now organized crime, squeezed by government efforts in Colombia and Mexico, has increasingly moved into Central America as well, with groups using it as a major transit zone today for drugs. There are signs of "spillover violence" from Mexico into northern Guatemala. Some evidence suggests the region is becoming a manufacturer, too. In March, police in Honduras found what they said was the first cocaine processing laboratory in the country.