FROM the alleged return of death squads, to rising gang activity, serious allegations of police misconduct and a record-high year for the slaying of women in Guatemala, upper Central America again experienced another gruesomely violent year.
In Guatemala, a country with exceptionally weak government institutions and a military to prop them up, violence has reached new post-war highs.
Extra-judicial killings continue to be a concern. Ombudsman Sergio Morales blamed the spike in murders 100 in June alone to a social cleansing policy carried out by newly formed death squads. In the rural parts of the country, meanwhile, lynch-mob activity resurfaced in May, when a band of 5,000 Indians captured and burned alive four men blamed for theft.
The killing of women is also on the rise in Guatemala, where almost 2,000 women have been murdered in the last four years. Only a very small percentage of those murders have been solved.
In neighboring El Salvador, President Tony Saca in September called on police to investigate allegations of anti-gang death squads, after that country’s human rights department reported instances of heavily armed and hooded men terrorizing gang members, of which there are an estimated 10,500 in El Salvador. Gangs are blamed for 60% of the murders in El Salvador, which has not been able to curb the illicit activity despite its heavy handed anti-gang policies.
In Honduras, a country with an equally worrisome gang problem, voters in November elected as their new President underdog candidate Manuel Mel Zelaya of the opposition, center left Liberal Party. Zelaya s victory is being interpreted, in part, as a rejection of the heavy-handed policies against gangs and criminals, which to date has only escalated violence. Incumbent party candidate Porfirio Lobo had based his losing campaign on an extension of anti-gang policies and reinstating the death penalty.