Monday, April 24, 2017

InSight Crime delves into Guatemala's homicide data (April 24, 2017)

It has become commonly accepted knowledge that Central America's homicide epidemic -- concentrated in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador -- is driven by gang violence and drug trafficking organizations. That "truth," has been touted by government officials who use it to justify iron fist approaches to battling gangs, and international aid, which is funneled into programs focused on international narcotics trafficking and gangs.

But, "the reality is that we do not know how much of the homicides in the Northern Triangle are related to DTOs and gangs," explains  ground-breaking research project by InSight Crime. "When faced with an incomplete picture as we frequently are when it comes to rising presence of gangs and DTOs, and increasing violence in the region, the easy conclusion is to say that these events are related, but the fact is that there are few analyses of the homicide data to tell us who the victims are, how they have been killed, what the official investigations tell us about these criminal events, and who the presumed murderers are."

The project takes on two areas in Guatemala -- one controlled by gangs and another a drug trafficking corridor -- and delves in depth into disaggregated data available in an attempt to pinpoint homicide causes and how they relate to gangs and drug trafficking organizations.

Researchers found that in the case of the drug trafficking corridor, only 28 percent of the homicides could reasonably be attributed to organized crime-related activities -- less than is normally chalked up to organized crime by authorities. But in the case of the gang-controlled area, about 41 percent of the homicides could be linked to gang-related activities, in line with Guatemalan authorities' statements.

Methodology buffs will also be interested in the conclusions of the report, which point to the potential of the data available from public sources. The investigation process generates a tremendous amount of information, though much of it is lost and undervalued. The data could be applied to actually solving crimes -- most of which go unpunished -- but also for mapping homicide hotspots, and crossing data to see trends in victims, weapons, suspects, etc, notes Stephen Dudley in his write up.

"To date, the emphasis on the data gathering has been to satisfy a political appetite, to show that there is someone paying attention and, in the best case scenario, that these statistics are moving in a positive direction. But this is short-sighted and ignores the underlying issues that lead to this violence in the first place. Data is not a bureaucratic burden to be used for career advancement or political benefit. It is the core upon which strategies are made, resources are deployed and lives are saved."

News Briefs
  • A dozen people died in chaotic looting in Caracas last Thursday and Friday. Authorities said at least eight were apparently electrocuted attempting to rob a bakery, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Thousands of people marched in Caracas on Saturday, honoring the 20 people killed in the recent weeks of anti-government protests. For the first time, demonstrators managed to cross from the wealthier eastern side of Caracas to the traditionally pro-government west without encountering resistance from state security, reports the Associated Press.
  • President Nicolás Maduro must be considered directly responsible for all the deaths in recent days, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro told the Miami Herald's Andrés Oppenheimer.
  • The political opposition is also attempting to woo the armed forces, directly asking them to defy orders to repress protests, reports the Washington Post. Their goal is to create more pressure on internal divisions, but not to carry out a coup, according to opposition leadership. However, Maduro has carefully worked to create loyalty with the military, which has an influential role in the government and extensive benefits.
  • Armed pro-government bands -- colectivos -- are playing a key role in repressing dissent in Venezuela, reports the New York Times. Security forces are wielding water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets, but these paramilitary groups are engaged in more constant and deadly intimidation. Increasingly, they are dabbling in criminal pursuits for financing as well.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump quietly met with two former Colombian presidents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The meeting with Álvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana -- prominent critics of the FARC peace process led by current President Juan Manuel Santos -- was arranged by Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and was not on Trump's schedule and was not disclosed to reporters, according to the Miami Herald. Santos will be seeking continued U.S. support of the peace agreement and the $450 million in foreign aid promised by former President Barack Obama.
  • The French government pledged an aid package worth billions of euros for French Guiana, and lifted a strike that has paralyzed the country for nearly a month, reports the AFP.
  • At least 35 people were killed in Mexico this weekend, 12 in different incidents in Sinaloa state on Sunday, reports Reuters. The homicides are attributed to an increase in battles between gangs since the arrest of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán last year. Violence has surged to the highest levels since 2011, and President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing criticisms over his handling of the issue.
  • It appears that El Salvador's vice president, Óscar Ortiz, carried out money laundering activities, in relation to the illegal activities of José Adán Salazar Umaña, alias "Chepe Diablo," captured earlier this month, reports Factum. (InSight Crime has the English version.)
  • Honduran authorities say their policies targeting organized crime are responsible for the country's drop in homicides. But they "appear to be making contradictory assumptions about the effects of their anti-crime strategies," warns InSight Crime.
  • Guy Phillipe, a former Haitian policecommander, has agreed to plead guilty to a drug-related charge in a Miami federal court. He likely obtained a deal allowing him to avoid a life-sentence, reports the Miami Herald. Phillipe participated in the 2004 coup and has been accused of human rights violations. He was elected to the Senate last year, and was captured DEA agents just before swearing in would have granted parliamentary immunity. Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse openly campaigned with Philippe, despite his fugitive status, and has appointed a number of close Philippe supporters to key government posts, notes the Herald.
  • The Trump administration believes conditions have improved enough in Haiti to justify sending back 58,000 of Haitians currently granted temporary immigration relief, reports the Miami Herald. (Last year, Obama moved to end the temporary protected status for undocumented Haitian immigrants, but reversed course after Hurricane Matthew devastated part of the country. See post for Sept. 22, 2016.)
  • A group of retired, senior U.S. military officers has asked Trump to continue the normalization process with Cuba for the sake of U.S. national security and stability in the region, reports the Miami Herald
  • The infrastructure investment related to Brazil's recent mega-games -- the 2016 Olympics and 2014 World Cup -- is laced with allegations of bribes and corruption, reports the Guardian.
  • The U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean — ECLAC — estimates regional GDP growth will reach 1.3 percent this year, but analysts emphasize that recovery is likely to be "shallow" and "subdued," reports the Miami Herald. In the Caribbean growth is expected to be uneven -- while some countries are predicted to grow at 5 percent, others will have negligible growth, notes the Miami Herald in a separate piece.
  • The New York Times profiles Gendes, a research and advocacy group in Mexico City that seeks to improve male behavior through counseling, education and public awareness campaigns: in short, "confronting the entrenched ideas fueling machismo."

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