The famous maras [gangs] began in Guatemala as a social problem. People needed to feel that they belonged, and they found in gangs the family that they didn’t have elsewhere, since the majority of them came from broken or non-existent homes. Children who came into the world without knowing a father’s warmth. They found in gangs precisely what they were missing – brotherhood. They developed a hierarchy, and now the gangs use this hierarchical structure to commit illicit acts and engage in criminal activities directed toward obtaining resources through non-legal means. Now, the other response that I want to give is that being part of a gang is not in itself a crime. A crime is prosecuted when a gang member commits an illicit act. Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González: Would you like to add anything else? How can regional cooperation contribute to the fight against illicit trafficking and crime, as well the exchange of police and military intelligence between Guatemala and other countries in the region? To what degree do you consider the gang problem to be a security problem? Is being part of a gang considered a crime in Guatemala? Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González: Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González: The political constitution of the Republic of Guatemala orders the army [to guarantee] internal and external security, but since the peace agreements were signed in 1986, this mandate has been restricted a little, and this task is assigned to the national civil police. We frequently carry out joint and combined actions with them. We’re taking a stand against the problems arising from drug trafficking both on land and on sea and doing interdiction of some aircraft entering our country. In this way, we’re doing what we can to eradicate or at least neutralize illicit trafficking and also combatting it directly. There’s a fundamental point here, and I want to make the following comment. Organized crime as a whole and drug trafficking, which is a part of it, do not respect borders, either coming or going. Guatemala forms part of a natural bridge, with all the Central American countries, where all types of illicit traffic come and go, including arms, migrants. We need to be in constant communication with neighboring countries in order to pass on to them, and also in order for them to pass on to us, whatever kind of information can make it possible to directly combat any of that illicit traffic I just mentioned. There can be no delay in obtaining precise information about the methods they use and the places [they operate] in order to make it possible to directly fight drug trafficking. What measures have been implemented by the Armed Forces Joint Command in the fight against drug trafficking? What more should be done to combat illicit trafficking?* Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González: President Álvaro Colom has started many social programs, but there’s one in particular that’s called “open schools.” Open schools are the same public schools, but for young people of all ages who are not able to go to school during the week. So they use the space on the weekends to learn a trade; they learn to play an instrument, they learn to sing, or a dance that’s in fashion. The idea is to motivate them so that they don’t join gangs. But there are many gang members who take part in these social programs – approximately 247,000 young people are participating in these “open schools” programs. And it’s not only in the capital. There are open schools across the length and breadth of our country, with very positive results. It’s a good program, headed by the president and the first lady, that I feel is giving fast, quick, and well-defined results – in order to prevent young people from continuing to be part of and participate in these gang-related directives. I want to return to what I said at the beginning about this decree that makes it possible to support units of the National Civil Police in combatting drug trafficking and organized crime as a whole. We don’t have the legal possibility of seizing a criminal and booking him. What I can tell you is that if someone is committing an illicit act and is caught in the act, any citizen, including the army, can detain him and take him to the competent authority to have his case heard in the appropriate courts. I have a great deal of respect for what they’re doing and working on in the countries that have taken this initiative to grant the army some kind of police function. We’re supporting the national civil police. Nevertheless, we also have a military police unit, and if it were to become possible someday that we would look at replicating this process underway in other countries, I think that it would be the military police units, because they have police training. I think that it would be very good for these military police units to have this possibility, in order to be more efficient and be able to immediately bring someone who commits an illicit act before the authorities, and let the authorities be the ones to judge them according to the illicit acts they commit. The security priorities of President Álvaro Colom’s administration are combatting and eradicating illicit trafficking: kidnappers, gang members, and even drug trafficking – which is not only a Guatemalan problem. Drug trafficking is a regional problem. It’s also not only a U.S. problem. You’ve been aware of events in this regard and also of the actions underway in Guatemala to combat this plague that does so much damage not only to Guatemalan youth, but to the entire region. In this regard, we think that the threat is a regional one – and the way to combat it is also regional. We’ve made great efforts with U.S. agencies to combat drug trafficking through both air operations and naval operations, where we’ve had demonstrable successes. What are Guatemala’s security priorities at present? Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González: Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González: Maj. Gen. Abraham Valenzuela González: Some countries in Latin America are studying the possibility of granting police powers to the armed forces in order to enable them to contribute to the fight against crime, gangs, and drug trafficking. What is your opinion about this growing trend in the region? With regard to juvenile delinquents – what is the government doing to prevent them from joining gangs, and what measures are being taking with regard to young people who are already gang members? By Dialogo October 06, 2010 It is interesting that a magazine about the violence and delinquency of Guatemala is published, since it is very difficult to find this information on the Internet. I congratulate you for what are you doing. The Guatemalan Army is an army that respects the laws, that respects human rights, and that is very conscious of the support that should be given to the civil authorities. The army is always subordinate to political authority and is very conscious of its constitutional obligations to support all the civil authorities and be able to take an efficient and effective stand against organized crime as a whole, which does so much damage to Guatemalan society, regional society, and all of Central America, Mexico, and also here in the United States. As I repeat, it’s a natural bridge for the entry of all kinds of illicit traffic. Our best intention is to work together with the civil authorities in order to eradicate as far as possible all kinds of illicit traffic that exist.