Two failing states in Latin America have turned to outsiders for help. We report first from Guatemala, on a UN effort to fight organised crime
Oct 15th 2011 | GUATEMALA CITY
AFTER years of frustration over its rotten security forces and judiciary, Guatemala’s government decided in 2006 to call for outside help. “Asking the justice system to reform itself was like tying up a dog with a string of sausages,” says Eduardo Stein, the then vice-president. The government invited the United Nations to establish a unit of foreign prosecutors to fight the infiltration of Guatemala’s institutions by corruption and organised crime. The experiment, known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), completed four turbulent years last month.
The commission’s main targets are clandestine networks of soldiers and policemen created during a 36-year civil war between military dictators and left-wing guerrillas. These outfits went freelance after a 1996 peace deal, selling their services to drug traffickers from Mexico and Colombia. Largely because of the drug mobs and their allies, Central America’s “northern triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador “has become probably the deadliest zone in the world” outside active theatres of war, General Douglas Fraser, head of the United States’ Southern Command, said in March.
SIX out of ten road deaths worldwide take place in just 12 countries, one of which is Mexico. Dented doors and battered bumpers are backed up by official figures: every year some 24,000 people lose their lives on Mexico’s potholed roads, almost double the number that die at the hands of its drug mafias. A further 600,000 are injured. The World Health Organisation reckons that, along with mountainous Peru and misgoverned Venezuela, Mexico has the most dangerous roads in Latin America.
In Mexico’s case the main problem is the drivers. Fourteen of Mexico’s 32 states, home to just over half the population, grant licences without setting a practical driving test. Three of those 14 run compulsory courses which students pass merely by attending. Five others have multiple-choice written exams, but they are not very hard. For example: “If on entering the vehicle we find the windscreen dirty”, one (incorrect) option is “to drive fast to clean it”. In six areas, including Mexico City, there is no compulsory training or test of any sort. Applicants in the capital need only pay 604 pesos ($45).