GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemala is in the process of hiring 3,000 army veterans – including both officers and enlisted men – to boost police ranks in order to better confront burgeoning violence, Defense Minister Francisco Bermúdez said last weekend.
In comments to reporters, Bermúdez rejected complaints from human rights groups that the move would “militarize” the national civil police force, known as the PNC.
Those who will be joining the police, he said, “are ordinary citizens” who no longer belong to the armed forces.
The minister said that the new police officers will make up six special contingents of 500 men each that are to be deployed in the most crime-ridden parts of Guatemala City and other urban areas.
President Oscar Berger’s administration is planning to spend nearly $12 million to augment the police force, Bermúdez said, adding that the army will oversee the hiring process.
According to the defense chief, the new cops, who will include a number of former mid-ranking military officers, are to undergo an intensive course in police work at the PNC’s academy.
Separately, Interior Minister Carlos Vielman told journalists that the 3,000 new police will be replacing some 2,500 officers booted from the force for misconduct and involvement in criminal activity.
Berger has acknowledged the failure of Guatemala’s security forces to control the surge in violence, which he blames largely on gangs and organized crime bands that are often better-armed than police.
So far in 2006, Guatemala’s murder rate has risen from an already horrendous 14.6 a day to 16 every 24 hours (NT, Feb. 10).