WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
4 Sep 2003 | Publication | News

Hidden Powers in Post-Conflict Guatemala

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Illegal Armed Groups in Post-Conflict Guatemala and the Forces Behind Them

By Susan C. Peacock and Adriana Beltrán

This special report examines the nature and the impact of illegal armed groups in Guatemala today, as well as the forces behind these groups. It describes how these groups, commonly referred to as “clandestine groups,” are an unresolved legacy of Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict. It argues that clandestine groups act at the behest of members of an interconnected set of powerful Guatemalans, commonly called the “hidden powers.” The individuals and groups known as the hidden powers oversee and profit from a variety of illegal activities that they carry out with little fear of arrest or prosecution. Their activities undermine the justice system and perpetuate a climate of citizen insecurity, which in turn creates fertile ground for the further spread of corruption, drug trafficking and organized crime. The result is a self-perpetuating, downward spiral of violence that jeopardizes the rule of law and the functioning of democracy in Guatemala.

Numerous local and international human rights organizations have denounced the existence of the clandestine groups and called for government action to dismantle them. Guatemalan civil society and the international community have publicly echoed their concerns and demands. This report concludes with recommendations on how to address the problem of clandestine groups and the hidden powers behind them. Both illegal armed groups and their sponsors must be investigated, identified and eliminated if the peace process is to move forward and democracy is to be consolidated in Guatemala.