GUATEMALA CITY – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet this week offered “her total support” to the Guatemalan government in its efforts to restructure its notoriously corrupt police forces as well as to help bring long-stalled free-trade talks between the two nations to a successful conclusion.
Bachelet met March 18 for a half hour with Guatemalan counterpart Oscar Berger at the National Palace of Culture as part of her two-day visit to the Central American country, which in turn is part of a larger swing that will take her to Mexico and Panama.
Following the meeting, the two leaders gave a joint press conference in which they announced Chile’s willingness to cooperate with Guatemala on restructuring its National Civil Police (PNC) force, which, Berger’s government admits, has been infiltrated by organized crime.
“We have all the will and willingness to collaborate in something that is so important for Guatemala. It’s an area that we’re going to work closely on in our bilateral commission,” Bachelet said.
The cooperation that Chile will offer Guatemala in that process, said Bachelet, Chile’s first female President, will be channeled “by the civil police (of her country) or by militarized police.”
For his part, in referring to Chile’s offer to help reconstruct Guatemala’s security forces, Berger hailed the public safety situation in the South American country, where he said “indicators (of crime and violence) are insignificant.”
Berger added that, “The detailed offers of support (by Chile) for our reform process will be announced next week.”
Berger earlier this month ordered the complete restructuring of the PNC, as well as the “purging” of officers who may have links to drug-trafficking and other organized crime gangs, or who have engaged in acts of corruption or human-rights violations.
That decision came after investigations showed that at least six officers of that force were involved in the Feb. 19 slayings of three Salvadoran representatives to the Central American Parliament and their driver (NT, Feb. 23,March 2).
Four of those PNC agents found to have taken part in the crime were slain on Feb. 25 inside a maximum-security prison, killings believed to have been carried out to derail investigations so that other police officials could not be implicated in the murders.
Authorities in Guatemala and El Salvador have formed a joint team aided by agents from U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to investigate the killings.
Separately, Bachelet and Berger also agreed to break the deadlock in negotiations on a free-trade agreement. Chile signed a trade deal with four Central American countries – including Guatemala – in 2002, but the inability of the two sides to reach agreement with regard to exports of sugar and beef has kept the pact from entering into force.
Speaking on the matter, Bachelet said that “there are points of discussion that require additional work. Our aim is to continue advancing so that in a period of three months we can arrive at solutions that are commonly agreed upon.”
She added, “We want to advance in the signing of the free-trade agreement, based on the framework agreement signed with the other countries of Central America.”
The negotiations have been bogged down over Guatemala’s desire for Chile to allow larger quantities of sugar from the Central American country, while Santiago wants an increase in Guatemala’s import quota for Chilean beef.
“In three months we’re going to wrap up negotiations on the free-trade deal so Central America has completely free trade with Chile,” Berger said.
Bachelet arrived Sunday in Guatemala for a two-day visit that on Monday included her participation in a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Board of Governors in the Guatemalan capital and a gathering of female leaders of the Central American nation, among them Maya leader and 1992 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchú.