San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

2006 Murder Rate on Track to Set New Record:Wave of Violence Grips Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY – The bodies of six men who had apparently been tortured and then shot and strangled to death were found Monday near Guatemala City, emergency workers said.

A fire department spokesman said the bodies of four of the victims, ranging in age from 18 and 24, were found on a deserted road in Santiago Sacatepequez, some 29 kilometers from the capital.

“They were strangled and shot to death.

We found it strange that the four were wearing two sets of clothing,” the fire department spokesman said.

The bodies of two other men were found in a vacant lot in Villa Nueva, on the outskirts of Guatemala City.

The continued wave of violence this year in Guatemala claimed the lives of 419 people in January, and 30 others have been killed so far this month, according to official figures.

Human Rights Prosecutor Sergio Morales said recently that the violence plaguing Guatemala “has become an epidemic.”

He said Guatemala registers an average of 40 murders per 100,000 inhabitants each year, a rate that exceeds the world average reported by the World Health Organization of 10 per 100,000 people.

In 2005, there were 5,338 violent deaths registered in Guatemala and it is feared, if the current trend continues, that this year could be even worse.

The country has a slaying rate per capita more than quadruple that of New York City. Guatemala has 14 million people. By way of comparison, New York City, with a population of 7.4 million, averages fewer than 600 murders per year.

Officials have blamed the violence on the Central American country’s numerous youth gangs, other organized crime groups and drug trafficking.

Guatemala has 22,000 police officers, and about 1,000 soldiers have been assigned to provide security at various locations, especially areas considered to be high-crime neighborhoods.

According to official statistics, the youth gangs, known as “maras,” have more than 60,000 members, mostly males between 12 and 25 years of age, far outnumbering the country’s police forces.


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