GUATEMALA CITY – The Guatemalan government is asking lawmakers to approve a 2009 budget that includes $986 million, or roughly 3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, to boost police and army efforts to fight rising crime.
A government spokesman said that President Alvaro Colom met last week with leaders of opposition parties to discuss the “worrisome” levels of lawlessness and violence in Guatemala.
“After becoming acquainted with the Xray of insecurity, there was a positive reaction on the part of the political leaders to support the president’s request,” the spokesman said.
Guatemalan authorities say that 22,500 crimes have been reported so far this year, 12 percent of them homicides.
The extra $986 million Colom wants from Congress would go to the interior ministry, which oversees the police, and the armed forces.
The government says that with the additional funds, the national police could be expanded from 18,500 to 30,000 officers over the next two years, while the army could be nearly doubled, from 15,500 troops to 30,000.
Congress has until Nov. 30 to approve the 2009 budget and legislators are also expected to consider an administration proposal aimed at broadening the tax base.
Colom’s government said earlier this year that Guatemala, a nation of 13 million people, has just one police officer per every 2,400 inhabitants.
By the end of the 2004-2008 term of President Oscar Berger, the impoverished Central American country was experiencing an average of 17 murders per day.