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How the US Props Up Criminals and Murderers All in the Name of Our Catastrophic Drug War

The US appears to be repeating its historically catastrophic strategy of propping up human rights abusers and simplistically relying on militarization to root out social problems.

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Drug trafficking organizations are believed to be most active in Guatemala, where they seek exploit the nation’s weakly guarded border with Mexico and like Honduras, Guatemala is struggling with entrenched connections between DTOs and state institutions receiving millions of dollars in U.S. funding. In 2005, Guatemala’s head of the drug enforcement agency, his deputy and another senior official were arrested in the United States on charges of drug trafficking. Four years later President Alvaro Colom fired several of Guatemala’s top law enforcement officials–including the the director general of the national police, his deputy and both the heads of investigations and operations–after a significant amount of drugs and cash went missing. The U.S. government, in its analysis of CARSI has noted that former combatants in Guatemala’s civil war–a U.S. funded venture that resulted in the death of more than 200,000 people and the genocidal targeting of indigenous groups–are increasingly offering their skills to incoming criminal organizations.

Some efforts to combat organized crime in Guatemala have received international praise. The establishment of the U.N.-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala has yielded some success in addressing criminal infiltration of state institutions, but that success was marred in by the resignation of Carlos Castresana, head of the commission in 2010. Mr. Castresana cited a failure on the part of the Guatemalan government to support the commission’s efforts and address corruption within law enforcement organizations. Rather than bolstering state institutions, the response to crime in Guatemala has largely been one of privatization. Seventy-three private security companies operate in Guatemala, employing an estimated 120,000 guns for hire, compared to roughly 22,000 police officers. As a result, Guatemala’s poor have shouldered a disproportionate amount of the nation’s violence. In the first seven months of 2009, for example, Guatemalan authorities registered 2,235 murders. Of those killed, 30 were entrepreneurs or college graduates. According to the United Nations Human Development Program, the remaining 2,005 were poor people, half of them unidentified.

Similar issues persist in El Salvador. This year alone the country has already experienced 17 massacres–killings of three or more people at once–resulting in 57 deaths. The overall murder rate for the country last year was tallied at 71 deaths per every 100,000 inhabitants; making for roughly 11 murders per day. This month the nation’s defense minister said six Salvadoran soldiers who attempted to steal nearly 2,000 grenades intended to sell them to Zetas members in Guatemala. When President Obama toured Latin America in March of this year, he made a historic appearance in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador, visiting the tomb of archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated by U.S.-backed Salvadoran forces during the 1980s. Obama offered praise for the administration of President Mauricio Funes and expressed a commitment to aiding El Salvador and Central America as whole in its efforts towards stabilization. Many comparisons have been drawn between the two young presidents, and El Salvador has frequently been painted as the Obama administration’s shining hope in the region. President Funes himself, however, has a dmitted that his U.S.-funded security forces are far from immune to DTO influence; this month he announced a “cell” within a Salvadoran police unit was receiving $5,000 a month for services rendered to the Zetas.

Rosa Anaya is no stranger to the toll misguided U.S. foreign policy can take on a region, and a family–particularly in the case of El Salvador. During the 1980s Anya’s father worked as a Salvadoran human rights advocate when the U.S. was engaged in its last major effort to bring stability to Central America by bankrolling murderous regimes. Herbert Ernesto Anaya Sanabria was the renowned president of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador and he was an outspoken opponent of the Salvadoran government’s war on its own people. In 1986 his beliefs landed him jail where he was tortured for 15 days. One year later, after being released and failing to turn his back on his convictions, he was assassinated by the Salvadoran Treasury Police.