Guatemalan drug violence stems from impunity there

Your piece on Guatemala today made some excellent points about the perils facing those in Guatemala working to expose the causes of the country’s endemic violence and conflict.  It is a distortion of reality to only point to drugs as the root of the violence there, as you point out.

Certainly, drug trafficking is a large part of the causes of violence there.  But drug violence is really only symptomatic of a larger cause of violence in Guatemala — violence perpetrated with impunity by those who have powerful economic and political interests against anyone who threatens those interests, including human rights activists, social welfare activists, and environmental protection advocates.

In 2008, someone pumped several bullets into Dr. Yuri Melini, the director general of CALAS, an environmental law non-governmental organization that had been working to strengthen legislation and management of Guatemala’s significant environmental patrimony.  Melini lived, but to this day, no one has been held accountable for that attack, though suspicion centers on those whose interests would be affected by enhanced environmental protection in Guatemala — mining companies, timber companies, and perhaps drug cartels that use northern rain forests to move drugs to the U.S.

If you oppose powerful interests in Guatemala – legal or illegal – you put yourself at risk, and those charged with upholding the law – police and other security forces – may not be there to help you or bring the perpetrators to justice.  Rights groups despair at Pérez Molina’s recent election because some see him in the service of those same powerful interests at the root of so much violence in Guatemala.  The burden of proof is upon the president-elect to prove them wrong, and upon all of us to hold the Guatemalan government accountable if they don’t eliminate the impunity of those at the root of Guatemala’s violence.

Tom Deligiannis
University of Western Ontario

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