Chaired By: Rep. Eliot L. Engel
Witnesses: Eduardo Stein Barillas, Former Vice President, Republic Of Guatemala; Anita Isaacs, Ph.D., Benjamin R. Collins Professor Of Social Science, Associate Professor Of Political Science, Haverford College; Mark Schneider, Senior Vice President, Special Adviser On Latin America, International Crisis Group; Stephen Johnson, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Western Hemisphere Policy
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REP. ENGEL: (Sounds gavel.) The subcommittee will come to order.
I'm told that Mr. Burton is on his way and will be here. He is filling in for Mr. Mack, who is away this week from Congress. And when Mr. Burton comes, I'll give him his due accolades because he used to be the ranking member of the subcommittee and, indeed, even the chairman of the subcommittee. And we have always worked together very well.
So I'm pleased to welcome everyone today, to today's hearing on Guatemala. And I'm very glad that I'm very glad that Ambassador Villagran is here.
So, welcome, Mr. Ambassador.
And the recent media attention on Latin America has focused overwhelmingly on Mexican President Calderon's battle against Mexico's drug cartels. Meanwhile, Mexican cartels have moved more aggressively than ever into Guatemala, a country with weaker institutions than its neighbor to the north.
Last Thursday, 3,800 bullets and 563 grenades that were seized from Mexican cartels in Guatemala in April were determined to have originally been the property of the Guatemalan army. In the April seizure, police also found eight anti-personnel mines, 11 M-60 machine guns, bullet-proof vests and two armored cars.
Drug-related violence in Guatemala, unfortunately, complicates an already difficult situation. Guatemala has a long history of violence and one of the highest murder rates in Latin America.
In a report to the Guatemalan congress, the country's human rights ombudsman noticed that 2008 was, and I quote, "the bloodiest year of our history," unquote, with 6,292 homicide victims. That's 6,292.
Illegally armed groups, drug cartels, and youth gangs are contributing to spiraling violence. On May 18th, a priest from the United States living in Guatemala, Lorenzo Rosebaugh, was brutally killed during a robbery. I believe it's time to say enough is enough.
Last month I sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to focus greater attention and resources on Guatemala. While I am pleased that the Merida Initiative includes funding for Central America, at my insistence, I believe that much more must be done to support our partners in Central America, and particularly Guatemala.
In my letter, I outline three key areas where the United States can intensify our support for Guatemala. First of all, we must continue to focus Merida Initiative's efforts on police training and reform. This should include an increase in the number of U.S. government permanent staff and detailees offering police training in areas such as crime scene protection and evidence collection.
Secondly, since its creation in 2007, I have been one of Congress's strongest supporters of the U.N. International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala known as CICIG, an independent body created with the support of the Guatemalan government to investigate the country's serious problems with organized crime and clandestine security networks.
We need to build on current U.S. support to the CICIG. This means providing details to the CICIG from the FBI and other U.S. agencies on a case-by-case basis to offer investigatory expertise as well as helping the CICIG to build up its witness and victim protection programs.
Thirdly, there needs to be a greater focus, in my opinion, on the prevention side of youth gang violence.
My hope is that today's hearing will serve as a call to action for all of us to help our friends in Guatemala to emerge from the current cycle of violence and impunity. The challenges that Guatemala faces should serve as a stark reminder that we must develop a more holistic strategy to combat drugs and violence in the Western Hemisphere than currently exists.
As we focus more intensely on Guatemala, let us not lose sight of history. Each time we work with our partners in the Americas to go after drug cartels and drug-related violence, the cartels inevitably move on to the next country. A more holistic approach means not simply fighting yesterday's battles but also looking ahead to vulnerable countries like Honduras. I just was in Honduras last week with Hillary Clinton at the OAS meeting.
Finally, as I have said time and time again, a more holistic approach means doing more within our own borders to curb our own country's demand for drugs and to stop the illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons down south from the United States that fuel violence throughout the region.
I would be remiss not to mention the tragic May 10th murder of Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg. For those of us in the international community, the murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg and the allegations surrounding his death should not become an exercise in finger pointing. Instead, we must support the CICIG as it carries out its investigation.
Rosenberg's murder and the political chaos that it has created only reinforces the need for a stronger justice system and an end to impunity in Guatemala, particularly the Rosenberg murder, where he had written something on paper saying that, "If I'm murdered, this is who murdered me." I certainly think that needs to be investigated very carefully.
I would like to, before I introduce our witnesses, give our members who are here, if they desire -- they don't have to -- a chance to make an opening statement.
Ms. Lee declines. Mr. Sires?
Okay. Everyone's cooperating today.
So I am pleased to introduce our witnesses. Eduardo Stein is the former vice president and foreign minister of Guatemala. Anita Isaacs is the Benjamin R. Collins professor of social science at Haverford College. Mark Schneider is the senior vice president of the International Crisis Group and a former director of the Peace Corps. And last but certainly not least, Stephen Johnson is a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere policy.
And so why don't we start with testimony and why don't we start with Mr. Stein?
I think if you push the button and move a little closer to the microphone, that'd be good.
MR. STEIN: Thank you very much for the invitation. And thank you very much as well for the interest in my country.
As an expression of that solidarity, I think your introduction, Mr. Chairman, gave a very good panoramic view of what we are up against and what we are undergoing in Guatemala.
We have indeed reached a critical point in unveiling the weaknesses of our institutional scaffolding within the criminal justice system as well as the barriers of impunity that have been brewing here for years, since the internal arms conflict, and which have grown to intolerable proportions in recent years due to the deep penetration of our public and private institutions by power structures which compromise not only the most basic public services to Guatemalan society but which truly manage to impede the very existence and functioning of a democratic state.
The tightening of the overall fight against and eradication of the narcotic-related criminal organizations in Colombia and Mexico have triggered a dangerous migration to the drug cartels into Central American countries, which have resulted in portions of our territory under their control.
The country is indeed in an immediate risk of being overtaken by the cartels.
The commotion created in Guatemala by the International Commission Against Impunity in recent months is a natural consequence of its mandate, a natural evolution of its investigative work, and a result of the very obstacles found in some people within the institutions responsible for providing equitable and efficient criminal justice system.
The extreme weakness and the penetration of our institutions have become evident. But this commotion has helped to clarify the picture and sift through the complex national and regional agenda to pinpoint the most urgent and transcendental objectives to pursue in the next few months and years; that is, in strengthening our justice system, and through this route, to demand our justice system to redeem the Guatemalan state with the involvement of all other branches of government and organized sectors of society. The executive branch cannot do it alone.
So as a Guatemalan citizen and as a former government official who has been distinguished with the invitation to appear before this committee, and under whose administration the CICIG was promoted and created, I make a plea to the U.S. Congress and for you, to the U.S. government, to keep up the support of the revamping of our institutions, and the support of CICIG.
The new U.S. administration and the new U.S. Congress have to renew their commitment to help strengthen our democratic institutions and help CICIG in its second term of its extended mandate.
We cannot expect to get different results by doing the same things we have been doing in the past. There might be a need as well to touch up the Merida plan in this regard; widen and diversify the strategic vision; focus the scope in the case of the so-called northern triangle of Central America -- that is, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala; and maybe beef up the institutional strengthening elements of the plan, which are there and very intelligently drafted, by the way.
But we will need the participation of U.S. institutions that have the experience, the dexterities and the know-how of criminal investigation and prosecution. We need the participation of the Department of Justice.
We have heard rumors, Mr. Chairman, that some instances would like to tame down CICIG to a lower profile and reduce its scope and agenda to mere technical training activities for judges, prosecutors and police investigators and detectives. We have had that for years without any substantial changes in our justice system.
The true innovation of CICIG is that they can implement criminal investigations to support the general attorney's office and our district attorneys, and can become an associate part of the prosecution throughout the full length of a trial, that they can help our state authorities in deciphering, spelling out and dismantling the cysts of impunity embedded in our public institutions.
That is what we requested from the U.N. That is what we agreed upon. That is the mandate that we have extended. To back away from that would be to betray and violate the mandate of CICIG.
This is no time for doubting and weakness, Mr. Chairman. This is the time when the weaknesses of our system are exposed. And we need to act together to overcome the obstacles, remedy the shortcomings, strengthen our justice system, and fortify our democratic state. This is the time to acknowledge what has been accomplished and to renew and invigorate the commitment. This is the time when the U.S. and the international community, both bilaterally as well as through the OAS and the U.N., can help us constructively to eradicate impunity and put up a fight which is truly transnational.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you, Mr. Stein.
Dr. Isaacs. And let me just say that if people would want to summarize their testimony, we would put the official written testimony into the record as well.
MS. ISAACS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am summarizing the testimony and would request that it be submitted for the written record.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this subcommittee today to contextualize the current situation in Guatemala and also suggest how Congress might craft future U.S. policy.
As a political science professor at Haverford College, I bring an outside the Beltway and outside Guatemala perspective. For the past 12 years, I've analyzed Guatemala's efforts to build durable peace and democracy following 36 years of war which claimed over 200,000 lives, and which the country's truth commission declared a genocide against the country's Maya population.
My research takes me to Guatemala roughly five times a year, where I divide my time equally between poor, rural communities hard hit by the conflict and the capital city. I was there a week after the assassination of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg to observe the popular protests his murder sparked and to speak with analysts, opponents and supporters of the government.
Had I appeared before you two months ago, I would have described how Mexican traffickers pushed into neighboring Guatemala are establishing an operations center in regions already destabilized by conflict pitting foreign mining corporations against rural indigenous communities. These communities claim the right to consultation guaranteed by international treaties. The companies repress community leaders. And the government continues to grant concessions, turns a blind eye to the escalating violence, and brands peaceful protestors terrorists.
Drug lords step into the mix, promising to defend communities whose resistance to violence, born of 36 years of armed conflict, is now eroding.
This conflict, however, has been overshadowed by the more dramatic events surrounding the Rosenberg assassination. The posthumous release of a video in which the lawyer forecasts his murder and accuses the president, his wife and his inner circle of the homicide and of acts of corruption have thrown the country into turmoil. It has generated sustained mobilization involving two sharply polarized sides, characterized in an oversimplified way as pro- and anti-government.
The so-called anti-government protest I observed rallied a crowd of some 30,000, distinguished by its urban, white and predominantly wealthy makeup. Joined by political opposition members, these protestors demanded peace and justice and called alternatively for the president's resignation, a general strike and even military intervention.
A five-minute drive away but a world apart, I also observed the government's mobilization of several hundred thousand supporters. Bussed in from its political base in less affluent parts of the capital and rural areas that have benefited from cash transfer programs, these marchers were largely poor and indigenous. Their banners and the official speeches that day angrily warned of sustained mobilization to protect the regime from elite sectors intent on destabilization.
Let me be blunt: Guatemala faces its most serious political crisis since the December 1996 signing of peace. The two conflicts I've mentioned bring into sharp relief key challenges and fault lines of democratic governance that, left unattended, could generate renewed civil strife: briefly, startling levels of violence and citizen insecurity -- the numbers of homicides have hovered around 6,000 a year since 2006; a judicial system in which 98 percent of all crimes go unsolved and society is rightly cynical about the capacity of their institutions and the will of their leaders to ensure the administration of justice; a leadership that, instead of channeling protest through political institutions, calculates the advantages to be gained by either weakening or propping up a regime through street mobilization and appeals for extra systemic action; a fragmented civil society and a polarized citizenry in which divisions are layered and politicized and the indigenous majority face discrimination comprises the bulk of Guatemala's poor and are politically excluded and/or manipulated.
By including Guatemala in the Merida Initiative and supporting the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, the CICIG, U.S. policy acknowledges the challenges posed by insecurity and impunity.
Summarizing the recommendations I lay out more fully in my written statement, U.S. policy as it looks forward should, one, stand firm in support of police reform and against a policy of remilitarization; two, secure rural and indigenous buy-in for justice reform by focusing diplomatic attention on the repression of peaceful protestors, providing information and resources for the investigation of war crimes and enhancing access to justice; three, apply a mix of pressure and support for an ample political and civil society dialogue on democratic preservation and strengthening; and four, promote the citizenship rights of indigenous Guatemalans through income-generating and educational programs.
These are ambitious and comprehensive proposals designed to address the symptoms as well as the manifestations and consequences of the current violence. Regional security and the future of Guatemalan democracy together hang in the balance.
Thank you for your time. And I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you very much, Dr. Isaacs.
MR. SCHNEIDER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear here today and to speak on the current crisis of insecurity in Guatemala.
You have my full testimony and some slides that I've prepared, and I hope they will be included in the record.
I want to applaud --
REP. ENGEL: Without objection. So --
MR. SCHNEIDER: I want to applaud the committee's renewed focus on Central America and your recommendations that you outlined in your letter to the administration and your statement today.
I appear here on behalf of the International Crisis Group. Our work extends from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe in attempting to prevent conflict and resolve conflict.
In the Americas while we focus on the Andes and Haiti, the board of trustees has asked us to assess conditions in Guatemala. For that reason, I traveled to Guatemala three months ago after a hiatus of a few years, although I visited frequently during periods of military rule, civil conflict, peace negotiations and the immediate post- conflict reconstruction years when I was at AID.
On this trip, I have to say that I was simply stunned by the magnitude of drug trafficking, crime and impunity, and the expressions of government officials and former officials who've been overwhelmed by these threats to the rule of law.
If I could have -- oh, the map is up there. But essentially, what you have is you have drug cartels that have taken up residence in a broad swath of Guatemalan territory and they now dominate perhaps 40 percent of rural Guatemala. They control or intimidate local authorities and municipalities that extend from the northern provinces which border Mexico down through the center of the country, through Coban to the Caribbean coast. The same holds true in the Peten and along the Pacific coast. And in an increasing number of these cases, we are told that they are the municipal authorities.
Hundreds of small landing strips, many on private property, dot the countryside throughout those areas and provide easy access to traffickers. Go-fast boats land on the Pacific coast and fishing boats along the Caribbean coast, undaunted by Guatemala's limited naval capacity.
These same well-financed, well-armed networks of traffickers also penetrated into the high echelons of law enforcement institutions.
More of the cocaine coming to the United States is stopping first on the Guatemalan coast, Caribbean and Pacific sides, repacked and re- shifted into the hands of the cartels going north. In Guatemala, there's been an increase of 47 percent over the past two years. Another important amount, probably far more than currently estimated, stops in another Central American country and then travels on to Guatemala before entering Mexico.
For many years, the Sinaloa cartel essentially was unchallenged, until the arrival of the Gulf cartel a very few years ago, with its paid assassins, the Zetas. The results are reflected in what you've already heard, a 50 percent increase in homicides in Guatemala between 2004 and 2006, and maintaining that level.
The amount of cocaine passing through Central America to the Mexican corridor to the United States, as the exact amount, is subject to much debate. What is not debated is that about 85 percent of the cocaine coming from South America uses that corridor. And what is not debated now is that the first stop of entry for cocaine leaving South America is no longer Mexico. It is Central America. And the single largest transit country in Central America undoubtedly is Guatemala.
Could I have the second slide?
You have different estimates of the volume of cocaine flowing toward the U.S., based on different calculations. State Department, in its annual report, stated that 400 metric tons of cocaine flowed across Guatemala and Mexico to the United States. That's probably a very low figure. It's based on cultivation and production figures in the Andes. And that's their estimate based on that.
The Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movement hosted by the Defense Intelligence Agency reported a high degree of confidence a figure of 545 metric tons of cocaine in 2007 passing through Central America and Mexico towards the U.S.
What you see on the board there is a much higher estimate but also agreed to by the same interagency committee, of 1,174 metric tons transiting the region in 2008. The Joint Interagency Task Force-South in Key West, which operates radar tracking, intelligence, air and sea interdiction, described this as the best transit analysis of the interagency community of the actual documented movement of cocaine departing South America in 2008 and headed mostly for the United States through Mexico and Central America.
What these estimates show, regardless of which one you use, is that U.S. counterdrug policies are not stopping the flow of great volumes of cocaine toward the United States.
Clearly, given these figures -- and the next slide -- which essentially show -- blue was the amount of cocaine that stops first in Mexico; red, the lines show, the bar shows the amount of cocaine stopping first in Central America. And as you can see, last year there was a fundamental shift. Interdiction ideally should take place before cocaine enters Mexico, not after.
Now, traveling with that illicit commerce are the killers who murdered most of the 6,300 Guatemalan victims of homicide last year -- as many homicides as in Mexico, a country nine times larger.
The amount of money involved is also huge. At wholesale prices in Guatemala in 2006, according to the U.N., the 180 metric tons of drugs that I indicated earlier passing through Guatemala represents $2.4 billion in value. And if you think about just 10 percent of that being used for expenses, it's clear that they have huge resources to pay for bribery, corruption and murder.
Now, for many Guatemalans, it's not just drug traffickers who produce the violence. There are other threats, particularly in urban areas.
In Guatemala City, as you may know, taking a bus is a calculated risk. One hundred and seventy one bus drivers were murdered last year and some 60 this year as part of organized crime efforts to extort money from both bus companies and unions.
Not surprisingly, polls show that Guatemalans see themselves as having a culture of violence and a nation of impunity, since 98 percent of the killings go unpunished and, in most cases, uncharged. Reform of the police, but not just the police, the judiciary as well, the entire institutions of the rule of law, is fundamental. And while there's been a start, more decisive action is required from the Guatemalan authorities and more support is required from the United States and the international community.
First, we would argue that Guatemalans must make the decision to end impunity, build effective, independent and competent law enforcement institutions.
In the past several days, we've seen 30,000 protestors demanding an investigation and prosecution and conviction in the murder of well- known attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg. Hopefully, that will mark an historic public turn to demand respect for the rule of law.
Second, as you know, Guatemala has requested and the U.N. has extended for two years, to 2011, the mandate of CICIG, the International Commission Against Impunity. But they need more help.
The judge Carlos Castresana, who heads that, has indicated that he needs additional support for investigators, prosecutors. And there are a couple of specific things. The U.S. should second FBI agents, Spanish-speaking prosecutors and forensic specialists, not just in helping to bring the murderers of Rosenberg to justice but to help CICIG help Guatemala build institutions and the rule of law.
REP. ENGEL: Mr. Schneider, could I ask you to please --
MR. SCHNEIDER: Yes.
REP. ENGEL: -- please sum up?
MR. SCHNEIDER: The other is that they really do need to provide support for high-impact courts, protect witnesses, protect the judges, protect the prosecutors.
And finally, there simply, let me say, Mr. Chairman, that there's a need for fundamental changes in U.S. drug policy. Your bill to create a Western Hemisphere drug policy commission hopefully will produce the more effective policy that reduces demand here, supply in South America, and transit through Central America and the Caribbean. Thank you.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you very much.
MR. JOHNSON: Chairman Engel, Representative Burton, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify on this important subject. You have my full statement before you, but I just would like to summarize that statement right now.
Transnational crime affects all of us, and it is perhaps the most imminent security threat in the hemisphere -- that is, the one that affects the most people in their daily lives and currently poses the most danger to all of our governments.
Guatemala is one of the most vulnerable countries in Central America, as you have heard before in other testimony. It is in the middle of a massive drug trafficking route from the Andes to North American markets. And besides that, its 36-year civil war, legacy of impunity and attendant problems with human rights abuse imposed a decades-long moratorium on assisting its security forces that now struggle with outdated equipment and meager training.
Guatemala's immediate neighbors cannot supply very much aid. Some have experienced similar political turmoil, and all have tiny economies comparable to small towns in the United States. So the scope of the problem is much greater than the resources that are available, at least among our allies and our partners.
Now violent drug cartels in Mexico are extending their reach southward, taking over territory once controlled by Colombian and local traffickers, ill-prepared for the challenge Guatemala offers, a path of very little resistance.
Guatemala is not the only country struggling against transnational crime in the hemisphere. Public statements from the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy suggest that narcotics and arms trafficking extend north toward Canada and south toward Argentina. Drugs also move east from Colombia through Venezuela to Africa and Europe. Caribbean airspace and sea lanes from Venezuela to Hispaniola represent another huge corridor for illicit transport.
If the situation continues to spin out of control in Guatemala, however, it will weaken police efforts in neighboring countries and harm Mexico's campaign to rein in violent criminal cartels, potentially destabilizing that country of 100 billion persons on our Southern border.
Although your hearing is focused on Guatemala's problems, we should bear in mind that drug trafficking is actually a global criminal enterprise involving hundreds of billions of dollars. Ultimately, efforts to reduce its impact will be successful if as many neighboring countries as possible can work together, contributing what special expertise each has according to the resources that each can reasonably apply.
Guatemala's leaders and leading citizens must be encouraged and supported in organizing their government better to reduce impunity, curb corruption, improve tax collection and strengthen law enforcement. Elites must exchange simple concern for individual well- being for communitarian values.
Only Guatemalans can decide to fund a larger, more professional police force. Only Guatemalans can put more youths in school and out of harm's way. And only they can encourage sons and daughters to study for careers in public service, where expertise is sorely needed.
For our part, the United States should help Guatemala analyze all that it needs to do to attack the problem, not necessarily in terms of off-the-shelf solutions, which we have used up to this point, but by engaging in new, creative thinking.
And the United States must be realistic about financing or donating equipment. The entire fiscal year 2009 Merida funding request for Guatemala, about $18 million, would buy just one helicopter. That's clearly not enough to make a difference. Interdicting smugglers, especially when you take a look at the maps that Mark presented, require surveillance, intelligence collection, mobility, technical devices, and a proper legal framework for law enforcement to stay ahead of criminals and not pray on innocent citizens.
Progress is ongoing. But the rate may not be fast enough to overcome serious challenges.
I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have. Thank you.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you very much.
And thank all of you for very good testimony.
Mr. Burton has joined us, and I would like to at this time give him an opportunity to make any remarks that he might wish to make.
REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN): Mr. Chairman, I won't make any remarks right now. I'd like to have my statement included in the record. But I would like to ask some questions of our panel after you ask yours.
REP. ENGEL: All right. Thank you very much.
REP. BURTON: And I apologize for my tardiness. I had an unexpected problem at my office. Thank you.
REP. ENGEL: Well, let me just say it's nice to have you back again.
REP. BURTON: My old buddy.
REP. ENGEL: Let me ask the panel, if anyone who cares to answer can answer.
Recent news reports about the heavy-duty weapons that Mexican drug cartels are using in Guatemala make clear the challenge that these cartels pose to the Guatemalan state itself. Some in Guatemala and in the international community would argue that the challenges posed by these cartels serve as a call to action for the Guatemalan military. Many others, however, argue that given the brutal role of the country's military in its 36-year civil war, it makes much more sense to utilize the country's police forces in going after drug cartels.
So let me ask you these questions. How would you evaluate the need for military versus police action to directly combat drug cartels operating in Guatemala? Let me just ask that question first. Anyone who cares to answer, I'd be grateful.
MR. SCHNEIDER: I think that one of the fundamental needs in Guatemala is clearly on civilian law enforcement. It'd be a major mistake to believe that the way to respond to the threat of drug trafficking and to increasing the organized crime is by bringing the military back into essentially internal police functions. What needs to be done is to strengthen the civilian police.
There is one area where it seems to me that you do have the need, and that is in the area of the coast guard, where there does need to be some additional capability. I believe, though, that the fundamental requirement is to do everything possible to reform, vet, train and support the civilian law enforcement, police and judiciary.
REP. ENGEL: Well, let me ask you in conjunction with that because in your testimony, you said that drug cartels dominate, I think you said, 40 percent of the national territory in Guatemala. So if that's accurate, what can the government do to regain control of its territory and to ensure that the cartels don't continue to deepen their presence in the countryside?
MR. SCHNEIDER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think, in fact, what you need is CICIG, the International Commission Against Impunity -- together with the international community, including the United States, needs to sit down with a vetted and determined Guatemalan civil law enforcement and identify those communities. We're talking about, essentially, sparsely populated rural areas. But those municipalities, they know where they are, they know which ones are controlled, and they know which ones essentially are under the control of drug traffickers. They need to develop a plan to go one-by-one and to go in and to prosecute and to -- they may need support, but they need to go after them with the idea of apprehending and bringing them to justice.
REP. ENGEL: Well, many of you -- I'll give Dr. Isaacs a chance to answer. Go ahead.
MS. ISAACS: I just wanted to answer the question about police versus military and to suggest that it's a tougher nut than simply avoiding a remilitarization, as I stated in the summary of my written statement. And what I'd like to underscore here is that in rural communities in particular, the distinction between the police and the military that is clear to us, one being a civilian law enforcement institution and the other not, is actually far less apparent. And individual citizens in rural communities are really frightened of an abusive, corrupt and inefficient police force.
So the challenge is not just strengthening the police force. It's not just community policing, but a challenge that remains -- and I believe, as I said, that one should not remilitarize Guatemala, that there's a legacy that's very dangerous -- but is to find a way of building trust in a police force that citizens feel that they can access and will actually deliver the security.
The distinction that they see -- it doesn't -- there is no distinction in their minds, virtually, between the police and the military, just to underscore that, that we draw so clearly. And that is a challenge that needs to be addressed in the context of police reform.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you.
Mr. Vice President.
MR. STEIN: Your question, Mr. Chairman, opens up a Pandora's box in Guatemalan politics and places myself in an awkward position because during our administration, we went ahead in reducing the numbers in the budget of the Guatemalan army, even the numbers and percentages called for by the peace accords.
We were convinced that there was a need to downsize the Guatemalan army and transform it into an agile and highly movable modern, professional army rather than a territorial control outfit. And that's why we opted for the strengthening of civilian organizations, not only the police but the strengthening of our justice system.
Unfortunately, the actual Guatemalan president, Alvaro Colom, is of a different opinion, which poses serious contradictions, even within the social democratic doctrine that his government professes. They decided to beef up the army again and increase their budget because they feel that civilian police forces are not capable of dealing with such a formidable challenge as that one posed by the drug cartels and their weaponry.
But I would revert to your statement, your opening statement, where there is a need for a holistic approach. And I would argue strongly in favor of going back to the strengthening of our civilian institutions.
I'm of the opinion, as many Guatemalans are, that just beefing up the army is not going to solve the problem. And the case that you eluded of the arms found under Zetas' control in Mexico that came from Guatemalan arsenals is a case in point. We wanted to downsize the army in Guatemala to prevent things like that from happening.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you very much.
Mr. Johnson, did you want to say anything? Yes.
MR. JOHNSON: Mr. Chairman, I'd just like to add that in many ways, it's a question of roles and responsibilities. And there's some things that the police can do and should be doing better than the military. And there's some things that the military can offer, particularly in their constitutional role of providing border defense and air space and maritime domain defense.
That doesn't mean that the military needs to be involved in apprehensions, but one of the weaknesses that the civilian defense has, or at least that the police has, is that they don't have the mobility to be able to get to areas when operations are going down.
For instance, the entire northern half of the country is pretty much difficult territory for them because they can't get to some of these strips and some of these areas where airplanes come in, crash- land, and then cruise and the people on board and people waiting for them take the drug cargos away and head for the Usumacinta River and then to Mexican territory. They have to be able to move very fast.
So in some ways, there has to be some kind of cooperation between military and police. And the roles need to be established. There needs to be a legal framework for it. And there needs to be adequate funding so that they have the kind of equipment that they need.
There was one propeller-driven airplane that I saw in my last visit that was available for tracking, patrol and interdiction. The helicopter fleet seems to be doing well. But if you're going to catch some of the airborne traffic in the north, you have to be able to travel fast. And in the south, there is a lack of air patrol capability and overall in Guatemalan territory very little radar coverage.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you very much. I'm going to -- let me just ask one question, which had some parts to it, but I want to raise it and then I'm going to turn it over to Mr. Burton.
Many of you -- I had mentioned CICIG in my opening statement, and many of you mentioned it. And as I had mentioned, this CICIG, U.N. International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, has widespread support, both in Guatemala and throughout the international community.
So let me ask you specifically with regard to CICIG: How effective has the CICIG been? What constrains their ability to investigate and help prosecute crimes? To what extent are the various elements of the Guatemalan government cooperating with the CICIG? As you know, they are not able to formally prosecute cases and need to rely on its partnership with the public prosecutor's office. So has the public prosecutors' office proven to be a good partner for the CICIG? And besides continuing to assist the CICIG financially, what else can the Obama administration and Congress do to help ensure that the CICIG is able to successfully fulfill its mandate?
And let me add, Carlos Castresana, who is the head of the CICIG, he is leading the investigation into the murder of a Guatemalan lawyer, Rodrigo Rosenberg. And even Castresana has expressed doubts about his ability to resolve the case. The quote I have for him says: "I still have no wiretaps, no maximum security prisons, no far- reaching courts, so how do you expect us to resolve the Rosenberg case or any other?" That's a quote from Carlos Castresana.
So coupled with that, what are the prospects for the successful prosecution of those responsible for the murder of Mr. Rosenberg? And what are the real stakes in the Rosenberg case? How much does Guatemala's long-term stability depend on the case being successfully resolved?
I know I've thrown in a lot there, but they're all connected. And any one of you who would like to take a shot at it, I'd be grateful.
Okay. Mr. Stein. Thank you.
MR. STEIN: Mr. Chairman, those of us who were involved in promoting the creation of CICIG had a very complex set of legal questions to be solved before it came into being. And you mentioned one of them.
The commission has no capacity to prosecute on their own. The idea of the commission was precisely to help strengthen the capacity of our own prosecutorial abilities within the general prosecutor's office, et cetera.
To the best of our knowledge, CICIG has been very successful in the half-dozen or so emblematic cases that they have put together for the general attorney's office to present to the court system. But we're wary and we are afraid that the penetration that I alluded in my statement has weakened or has impeded our own institutions to comply with the kind of partnership that is needed.
Not a single detention has been materialized in any of the cases of the emblematic cases that CICIG has presented. There are evidence or there are signs of complicity between personnel of the prosecutor's office and personnel of the court system to try to make CICIG fail in the cases that they are putting together.
So I think that CICIG would need not only a boost in resources in this second phase of the extension of their mandate, but also the technical capacities that have -- other witnesses have mentioned. But there is also a political commitment needed from top-level Guatemalan authorities in the three branches of government.
We have seen, suddenly, like lights going off in the middle of investigations. And you mentioned some of the requests that Mr. Castresana has made to public authorities that do not materialize or take ages to materialize.
Paying lip service to how well CICIG is doing is not enough. There is a need for institutional production of results within the Guatemalan government.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you.
MS. ISAACS: Is it on? Yeah. I wanted to second what Eddie Stein just said and say that CICIG was chugging along quite happily until the Rosenberg murder, in fact, and people were kind of watching. I mean, there were these problems, but there was a sense of progress being made and the things being on the right track.
And then a curious set of things happened, which I think reflect one of the thorniest challenges also that we face. First of all, there was a tremendous embrace. In the atmosphere after the Rosenberg assassination, there was a kind of a general sigh of relief, which was, "Thank God we have the CICIG, and now the CICIG can save us and save democracy in the country, save our institutions, et cetera, solve this crime."
Then a few weeks passed and a curious thing happened: As the CICIG actually seemed to be ready to move forward and do this, to perform its task, to kind of work forward towards resolving the crime, and we see the evident, sort of very apparent tripping up of the CICIG, an effort to undermine, an effort to block, an effort to stop the process.
This speaks to me to underscore that it's both a question of resources and a question of political will and commitment. And I think that where the U.S. can make a difference is in the area of sort of diplomatic pressure and sort of not letting up on that. And Ambassador McFarland in Guatemala has been very outspoken and effective on that front.
So I -- what I want to second in particular to what's been said here is that I would caution against saying CICIG is doing a good job, et cetera, et cetera, but would instead alert to the worries of tripping up and undermining the CICIG and paying attention to the ways in which its investigations are being blocked at the moment.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you.
If I could, there's no question that CICIG has begun to come up against a structure of impunity that has in a sense corrupted much of the Guatemalan law enforcement establishment.
Remember, last year alone, there were 1,700 police who were thrown out because of corruption, including 50 police commissioners and the deputy director of the national police.
The CICIG indicated it was not getting cooperation from the attorney general.
Ultimately, the attorney general resigned and 10 public prosecutors as well.
One would hope that the U.S., not just the U.S. but the international sort of friends of Guatemala diplomatic community would get together with CICIG and essentially establish these are the things that are needed for CICIG to do its job. And its job is not merely helping to solve the Rosenberg case. Its job is to dismantle the illegal armed groups to help the government of Guatemala establish a clean police force and judiciary in order to deal with the problems of organized crime.
And here, your letter, Mr. Chairman, goes, I think, much of the way. If CICIG has, in fact, better capabilities in terms of FBI investigators, in terms of prosecutors, if the members of CICIG who are Guatemalans, and very brave Guatemalans, they don't have the same immunities and protections as international employees of CICIG. That needs to be done. That's a decision of Guatemala.
At the same time, it seems to me that one has to establish at least some -- what the CICIG calls high-impact courts as courts where you have vetted the judges, vetted the prosecutors, protected them, protected the witnesses, and then go after those who are most responsible for a lot of the corruption and the crimes. And that seems to me that that has not yet been done.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you very much.
Mr. Johnson, no need if you -- okay.
I'll now, with pleasure, turn over the questioning to Mr. Burton.
REP. BURTON: You know, it's kind of troubling. You said that there appears to be collusion between the prosecutors and the judges. And according to what I have here in front of me, Mr. Rosenberg did a taping before he was killed and he accused the president and his wife and other close associates of having authorized the murder of one of the lawyer's clients, a concern, and he would reveal their involvement and corruption in a partially state-owned rural development bank Banrural.
How in the world are you going to get justice if the president was involved in this murder, or murders, and his wife was, and if the prosecutor and the judges are working together? It sounds like to me you've got a real cabal that you have to deal with.
I mean, you're telling us here today that we ought to do this, we ought to do that, we ought to do this. But, I mean, if you've got the top executive in the country and the prosecutorial staff and the judges all saying they're not going to do anything, they're going to cover this thing up, how do you anticipate changing that?
Well, while you're thinking about that, let me ask another question.
You know, we give Guatemala, according to my records here in front of me, they received $51.3 million in U.S. assistance in fiscal year 2007, ($)62.9 million in fiscal 2008, and the total funding requested for 2009 is ($)77.4 million and ($)103.2 million. You know, that's a lot of money. And it seems to me that in addition to diplomacy, Mr. Chairman, we ought to be talking about maybe putting a hold on some of this money until they change things.
I mean, we had before this committee, I think when I was chairman or you were ranking, women from down there that would talk about women being taken off the streets, raped, killed, left in vacant lots. And there wasn't much being done about that. I presume a lot of that's still going on. Is that right?
So that's still going on.
We've got a government, according to what we've heard here and what Mr. Rosenberg put in his videotape before he died, that they were involved, the president and his wife and others were involved in the murder, his murder as well as others. And then you've got the prosecutorial staff and the judges that are working in cahoots with one another to stop justice from being meted out.
And so if we can't do anything, we ought to bring this to the attention of the Congress and the Appropriations Committee and say, "Hey, listen, we're giving these people a lot of money and they want another ($)103.2 million next year, they're getting ($)77.4 million this year," and say, "You know, until we see some manifest changes down there, we're going to try to put a hold on part of this." You know, money talks and baloney walks. And I think that might be one of the ways to bring about some positive changes, if anything will.
And with that, if you have any comments, I'd like to hear them.
Mr. Vice President, I don't know if you're in a position to say anything because you might get shot next.
MR. STEIN: First of all, I apologize if my choice of words was not precise enough, but I spoke of some judges and some prosecutors. Fortunately, not all of our justice system shows these signs of corruption.
REP. BURTON: Well, let me interrupt you right there, Mr. Vice President.
The president must have enormous power down there. And if he is trying to put the kibosh on this, quiet it down, and he has some political sway over the prosecutors involved in this case or the judges that he may or may not have had anything to do with getting elected or appointed, can he keep this thing under wraps, keep it under the covers?
MR. STEIN: Well, you're referring to four different political problems in one. I would like to set aside the Rosenberg case because you cannot argue with a dead person and I know that there is an ongoing investigation by CICIG dealing deeply within the echelons of government to try to put some light on the accusations Mr. Rosenberg, whom I knew personally.
Secondly, part of the problem, Mr. Burton, is precisely that the generalized weakness of our institutional scaffolding gives little leverage to any head authorities of any of the three branches of government. And one of the worries of the Guatemalan people is precisely if after what Mr. Rosenberg revealed in his tape before he was murdered, and after the alleged involvement of such high-level authorities, this government will be able to function for two and a half years that still remain in their mandate and what they will be able to do in the two and a half years still running.
And in this regard, I think that CICIG has worked with competent prosecutors and has found some judges who are willing to do the justice work that needs to be done. But I mentioned purposefully that there are indeed some judges and some prosecutors and some lawyer offices that are indeed working in conjunction to try to block the investigations.
REP. BURTON: Yeah.
MR. STEIN: So what the investigations might yield in terms of a solid case to be presented to a court system needs to be accompanied by other strengthening in other areas of the --
REP. BURTON: I'll let the rest of you comment, and then I'll yield the floor.
The corruption level down there is pretty high. There's over 6,000 murders a year and it's going to be 6,200 and some this year, at least that's what they estimate. We've got women that have been gang raped and killed and thrown in vacant lots and everything else, and that continues to go one. You've got a fellow who accused the president and his wife of a murder and possibly his own murder. And we've had testimony today that there are prosecutors, maybe not all, and there are judges, maybe not all, that are trying to block this.
And with the political climate being the way it is right down there, and with the -- how do you pronounce that? -- the maras, the gangs down there having so much influence in the drug trafficking, is there any way that this is going to be handled in a -- is there going to be justice? And are we supporting a corrupt government down there by sending all of our money? And is there any possibility of a positive change or outcome?
Go ahead, Doctor.
MS. ISAACS: In my testimony, I make a strong plea that I'd like to underline again today, highlight, which is that there are -- I think the diagnosis that you make, I think I largely agree with it. But I think that one solution or one alternative that could be pursued is to find ways to support the strengthening of civil society that is fragmented. And many segments of civil society are totally excluded. And it's by looking underneath and supporting those actors that would be able to bring pressure to bear to hold their government accountable that might provide the beginning of a resolution to the kind of challenge that you very correctly lay out.
So I wouldn't argue for stopping funding. I would argue for a more comprehensive approach that tries to empower domestic actors who haven't traditionally been part of the political landscape or who have been marginal to the political landscape so that they can bring their influence to bear and try to preserve, deepen, strengthen a very fragile democratic --
REP. BURTON: Well, the chairman and I and others who worked on Western Hemisphere for a long time, we understand what you're talking about, what they're up against down there.
It just seems to me that there ought to be some way to put some pressure on the government to bring about change. And if you're talking about civil government or civil society there being able to put pressure on the government to bring about change, I would like to -- as a former chairman and as a member of this subcommittee -- I would like to have your recommendations, and I think the chairman would as well, so that we could take a hard look at them and see if we could implement some of those to bring about some change, because we're having a heck of a time right now, as the chairman knows, with the economy of the United States and the money that we're spending. And we're going to spend a couple, 3, 4 trillion dollars in the next three, few years.
And you know, this may seem like an insignificant amount of money, but if we can't straighten out a friend, a neighbor down there and the governmental corruption that's taking place, then why not save that money and use it here?
MS. ISAACS: Well, just to -- can I quickly in two seconds --
REP. ENGEL: Sure.
MS. ISAACS: -- just say that what I think -- that I think the most effective -- and I'd be happy to assist in any way possible. But I think that diplomatic pressure that U.S. could bring to bear from above and -- coupled with mobilizing, galvanizing, empowering groups from below would actually go a long way to strengthening Guatemalan democracy.
And I have all kinds of ideas about how to do that.
REP. ENGEL: Well, thank you very much. I'm going to give Mr. Schneider a chance to be quick and answer. And then I'm going to turn it over to Mr. Sires for questions.
MR. SCHNEIDER: If I could, Mr. Burton, the -- it seems to me that you can't do only one thing. Yes, support civil society. There was recently -- the government agreed with the archdiocese and the university on a national accord for security and justice -- about a hundred good things, in terms of commitments and priorities.
Yes, we should figure out a way how we can support them using civil society as a mechanism.
But I don't think you can turn away from the work that CICIG has done. Remember, among their attorneys are very brave Guatemalans who are taking a risk in going after the corruption within the system.
And at the same time there are some of those within the system who are trying to get rid of what remains the, if you will, the stain from drug traffickers.
So I don't think it's a question of either/or, but I agree with you that you need to be clear and focused in the message. And if anybody who is a significant power holder, whoever it is, is blocking that, the message from the U.S. needs to be quite clear. But there's also -- remember, there's been nothing yet that has proven that the statements or accusations in that video, with respect to the president, are accurate.
What I think you do have to do, though, is make sure that we provide the support to CICIG to go after whoever's responsible for that murder as well as the others.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you.
REP. ALBIO SIRES (D-NJ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
You know, as I sit here and listen to your comments -- I just want to follow up on what Mr. Burton said.
You know, we're looking at a country that is controlled 40 percent by the cartel. Is that what somebody said before? Forty percent of the country is controlled by the drug lords? Territorial, territorial.
You're looking at ineffective police. You're looking -- corrupt officials. You're not asking for the army to step in and try to do something about the situation. You feel that we should empower the police. But yet, the police is not effective.
You talk about brave Guatemalans -- how long these brave Guatemalans are going to be there if this is all -- if this is happening all around them?
What I'm getting at is, there's no one way of straightening this out. How do you straighten this out without the army getting involved? Because the police is ineffective.
I'm not -- believe me, I'm not a proponent of the army getting involved. But how do you fix the police? How do you fix the corrupt officials without, you know, a stronger arm? I mean, and I'm looking at Colombia, because Colombia a few years ago, they were going to be overrun. And I see the success that they have had.
MR. STEIN: Mr. Sires, I think that what Mr. Johnson mentioned here is the correct approach.
There is a role for each institution. What we are afraid of is that if Guatemala, as Dr. Isaacs mentioned, is remilitarized and we find an overbearing responsibility to the generals and to the military, we are substituting some distortions for another set of distortions.
REP. SIRES: But, Mr. Vice President, I look at the situation in Mexico.
MR. STEIN: Well --
REP. SIRES: You know, the police are part of the problem.
MR. STEIN: And who guarantees that the army is made up of angels?
REP. SIRES: Oh, no. Believe me, that's not what I'm thinking. (Laughs.)
MR. STEIN: Well, what I'm saying, Mr. Sires, is that each institution should have a strategic role to play and a set of very clear-cut responsibilities under the proper oversight, which is another part of the problem -- to strengthen that oversight capacity. Dr. Isaacs as well as Mr. Schneider have mentioned the strengthening of civilian institutions as overseers. So we need to work with our own congress as well.
A second set of questions that I think are in order is, how can we transmit to not only U.S. legislators but to other friends' congresses the set of very delicate balancing acts within these weakened institutions in the face of colossal amounts of money, which are many times over what the United States provides as a yearly aid package.
I know that this is a big responsibility for each and every one of you, to decide not only on the aid for countries like Guatemala but for internal purposes as well. But the amounts of money that the drug cartels can put into service in corrupting private and public structures is of such a nature that we feel it is a typical transnational effort and that if we don't deal with it through a network of countries and governments, it will be impossible to really begin to solve those issues.
REP. SIRES: So -- just to get away from that -- the border between Guatemala and Mexico -- they basically work, the drug cartels, with impunity, right? There is nothing to stop them? Mr. Johnson?
MR. JOHNSON: Representative Sires, it's not to say that there's nothing going on on the borders. There's a lot that's going on in terms of patrols. And both the police and the military are involved. And the Mexican military and police are involved as well. In fact, Mexico provides a lot of interdiction, air interdiction for Guatemala.
So there is cooperation. The question is, how much is there? Is it enough to attack the problem? And the -- it really isn't, because it's a resource question. And when you look at traffickers that are so well off that they're able to operate jets and turboprops -- a lot of them stolen, grant you -- but at the same time that they're able to operate airplanes like that for one-time use, crash land them, take the cargos across the river and move them on, or use semi-submersibles or mother ships out in the Pacific Ocean and then transfer cargos that way, you've got quite a problem.
And it soaks up resources for a country like Guatemala that has a $5 billion national budget, of which the police get, I think, about $100 million and the military gets about ($)150 million. So what they have to do to even begin to approach the problem is they go back to their congress and they say, "How much money can you raise in taxes?" And they're hearing from their constituents that they don't want to do that.
There has to be a meeting of the minds, a consensus, to begin to attack problems like this. Otherwise, you're going to be overwhelmed.
The other thing is, as we've seen with Colombia, we withdrew -- and I know it's frustrating, because there aren't many tools to deal with this -- but we withdrew from Colombia in terms of engagement in the mid-1990s. And then we had to come on back strong in 1999 and 2000 with -- by supporting Plan Colombia, and it cost us a whole lot more.
The problem now is that we've got Mexico and other countries on Guatemala's border that are also part of the overall equation.
REP. SIRES: That was going to be next question. Excuse me. What is the situation in the other borders, between El Salvador and Belize? Is that the other borders?
MR. STEIN: Honduras.
MR. JOHNSON: Honduras.
REP. SIRES: Honduras, Salvador --
MR. JOHNSON: And Belize. And Belize is a country that's got three light airplanes, a Cessna and two Britten-Norman aircraft -- one of which crashed last year -- to be able to use in interdiction. It's got a long coastline, very little coast guard capability. A lot of the air traffic comes over Belize, and they can't do anything about it, and it goes right into Guatemala.
And then you've got Honduras. You've got -- it's got GDP of about Fort Collins, Colorado to deal with this.
You've got El Salvador. They're doing a little bit better. But again, they're hard pressed just to take care of the situation in their own country.
So it is a matter of resources. And when we're talking about that, we're not even getting into the equation, which is just as important, and that is administration of justice, civil society, mending and -- the divisions in society, which are going to allow Guatemala to -- and its government to function more effectively.
REP. SIRES: So you need, in essence, a Plan Colombia for Guatemala?
MR. JOHNSON: What I'm saying is that the Plan Colombia model of comprehensive assistance seems to work a lot better than something that is just a silver bullet here, a silver bullet there.
REP. SIRES: Thank you very much.
You can speak.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you
REP. SIRES: You had a comment?
MS. ISAACS: I want to comment on the range of issues that you've raised.
I think that Guatemala is quite different from Colombia, because the history of the military and the history of the country is different. And we have a history of brutal repressive armed conflict perpetrated by the military, which is actually very recent.
We also have a military that is -- looks like the police. It suffers from all the same faults with the police; it's repressive, it's corrupt, it's abusive and it also resorts to strong-arm tactics. The problem is that for these programs and policies to be actually effective, it also needs to engage the cooperation of communities, and that won't happen.
The other issue that I also want to raise is that drugs aren't the only form of violence in much of rural Guatemala. It overlays a combustible mix that already exists there. And so you need both a Plan Colombia-type of approach, perhaps. I mean, I have to think that one through. But you need a comprehensive policy that understands the various rural conflicts that exist and the ways in which the military or the police might play into those.
And I'm thinking in particular of the conflict that I mentioned right -- in my statement about the conflict between mining companies and hydroelectric dams and indigenous communities and the ways in which drug lords have been able to come in and take advantage -- or are taking advantage. That, I think, is a significant a problem, a nut to crack, as it is to figure out who's going to provide the security.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you very much.
REP. GENE GREEN (D-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And I want to thank our panels. I have a district in Houston, and so we have a number of Colombian-Americans who actually live in our area and the relationship between our area and Guatemala is a great deal.
It's interesting because about two years ago some members from the -- some members for Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committee went to Mexico to talk about -- at that time it was right after the -- Merida was announced between President Calderon and President Bush. And we were requested to go there by the Congresso in Mexico because of the concern that our two presidents decided this, and now they're coming to both the U.S. Congress and the Chamber of Deputies in the Senate in Mexico and without any forewarn or any negotiations or discussion with us.
And to a person, the members from all three of the major parties in Mexico -- the PRI, the PAN and the PRD -- said we don't want Plan Colombia. We want something that's much different, because of the same concern that I'm hearing from our panelists about the army.
But what we have now -- in fact, President Calderon has made the decision that because of the problems with the police and literally the murders of police chiefs and -- hundreds of them -- to utilize the army in Mexico, not just on the west coast but on the border with the United States, and particularly with Texas. And that's not popular in Mexico either any more than Guatemala. And they don't have the history of the military running the government, as in Guatemala.
But you need something different than Merida, because, frankly, the amount of money for Central America is very small. In fact, we didn't get what we wanted for Mexico -- in the technology and things like that that we're trying to do.
It sounds like you're saying we need something like Plan Colombia but for the police forces. And the police forces could often be as brutal as the army, but you need to professionalize them and -- with that assistance. Of course, here I am saying that here, with Guatemala. We have the same problem in Afghanistan -- (laughs) -- that we found out, although, we -- our country needs to learn and we've learned it in Iraq and Afghanistan and our closest friends and neighbors to the south, that the best way you can do it is assure they're secure and control the -- for the crime but also show how people can earn a living and support their families, other than being displaced and the cities growing larger because the displacement from the rural area. And so you create poverty in the cities away from the rural area.
The military assistance in Guatemala is conditioned on Guatemala investigating the crimes and the -- of allegations from earlier, you know, governments. And do you think that's a hindrance or a benefit to try and deal with some of the past problems, you know, because of that condition on the military assistance?
MR. SCHNEIDER: Thank you very much for the question.
I think there are two parts, I think, to the answer. And one is, I think the conditions do make sense to Guatemalans themselves in their own commission on historical clarification we asked for.
But your other point, I think, is even more important. A Plan Colombia that was overwhelmingly aimed at strengthening the military is simply not what Guatemala's history or the threats that Guatemala faces would call for.
In the case of Colombia, you had a major insurgency and not the same kind of civil -- threat to civil law from drug traffickers alone. And so there was a combination that drew an effort to provide more support to the military.
You don't have that in Guatemala. In Guatemala you have a fundamental failure of civilian law enforcement and capability to prosecute and to bring to justice those who commit crimes. And that needs to be where you start. And you may need the kind of additional support that you suggest -- much more attention, much more resources, much more effort aimed at strengthening those institutions. That I would agree with. I'd also agree with your other point, that there needs to be an integrated process that deals with the other side, the prevention side, in terms of providing additional support for the rising number of young people who have no jobs, no education and no hope and who are easily recruited, if you will, by the maras and by organized crime.
REP. GREEN: Okay.
MS. ISAACS: I think that the way you phrased it is actually terrific just now in the question that you posed, and maybe because it's music to my ears, and it's what I work on. But I want to say sort of a resounding "yes" to the last part, that I think the connections between the two are central. And I'd say they're central sort of -- as a political scientist we talk about it in terms of something we call political learning.
And I see sort of the need to bring about a change in attitudes, a change in the way the institution behaves and a change in the way -- in the understanding of what's legitimate and illegitimate, acceptable and unacceptable patterns of behavior, that could -- it is one way in which the past connects to the present and the future, in terms of the role of the military in society.
I would say that it has two additional benefits. One is a more institutional version of reform that is more -- that goes beyond attitudes to restructuring the roles of the institution in light of what we learn from prosecution of wrongdoing. And the third element would be the purging of wrongdoers who still exist within military ranks.
I would also just sort of -- seeing as I have this mike here -- say that in terms of preventing sort of recourse to violence, people joining gangs, people becoming involved in organized crime, I would say that there are two questions: one is poverty, which you rightly signal, and finding ways and alternatives out of that poverty; the other issue is political inclusion and political participation. For me it's both social and economic, but it's also gaining political access. Guatemala is really a society in which the majority of the population are effectively politically excluded.
REP. GREEN: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, if I could just ask -- my concern is that sometimes we impose restrictions on military assistance and other things that actually is a hindrance to our country. I've heard that many times form the Department of Defense.
But Vice President Barillas, that's not a problem in Guatemala?
MR. STEIN: We have a long history of dealing with U.S. conditions in Latin America, not only towards aid packages but in other kinds of policies, Mr. Green.
Matter of fact, as a vice president in office I visited Washington at least three times to try to convince legislators to change that and to allow for a fresher vision, to sift through these impediments and allow for new technology and know-how to be able to be disbursed not only as, you know, dollars but know-how, really, in terms of the training of a new type of law enforcement people and the training of a new type of army.
Sometimes these impediments are really the only way in which U.S. legislators find through just stopping the disbursement of funds to a particular institution in one country, like the army in Guatemala, as a way to call for action in other areas within the Guatemalan state. We understand that.
But the nature, the scope, the depth and the gravity of the challenges that we are facing in security issues for all of Guatemalan society, I honestly think that do call for a revision of those impediments, as long as they are dealt with in the kind of proposals that we've heard from the panel -- or the witnesses today.
REP. GREEN: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, maybe we need to look at that. I know the -- on military assistance, but if we went past the military and went directly to local law enforcement, maybe those same conditions wouldn't apply -- except oversight over that.
And so thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your time --
REP. ENGEL: Thank you, Mr. Green.
REP. DONALD M. PAYNE (D-NJ): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for calling this very important hearing -- and certainly interesting listening to the witnesses.
I just have a question: In the write-up we got from Congressional Research Service it mentioned that, you know, Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America -- that by the end of 2008, even though the rate of murder decreased in the first three months of Colom's tenure, that the murder rate in 2008 increased by 8.3 percent and in 2009 it's 15 percent above that.
However, we did note that the election of the current president that was more of a person that the poor, the rural poor and others who were able to vote this time sort of unimpeded, sort of elected him.
So I'm wondering, is there anyone that can explain to me -- why do you feel there's been an increase? Do you think it's because of the drug cartel? Is it opposition to the current government? Do you -- anybody have a fix on what might be attributed to the increase in murders?
MR. SCHNEIDER: I think there's no question that the increasing encroachment of the cartels into Guatemala over recent years has been a major factor -- has been the major factor in increasing the number of homicides within the country.
If you look at the trend line, in terms of the increase of homicides, it basically does follow the arrival of the Gulf cartel, the challenge of the Sinaloa cartel for control over area, and an increase in the use of Guatemala as a transit point in moving drugs from South America north.
That's the largest -- not the only, but it's the major factor, I would say.
REP. PAYNE: Let me -- yes?
MR. STEIN: Undoubtedly, organized crime plays a major role in this increase, but there is a much more complex grid of dynamics playing in Guatemalan situation and, matter of fact, in all of Latin America, where we have seen a considerable and dramatic increase in citizen violence over the last 12 or 13 years.
In the case of Guatemala -- where we have 18 homicides per day as an average, most of which are young males -- what we are up against is a state of extreme inequality within Guatemalan society and extreme impunity, which none of those crimes are being properly investigated and prosecuted, with the exception -- according to this study that, with Swedish funds, was made four years ago -- only 2 percent of the homicides get indeed investigated enough to go to court. And just 1 percent does ever merit a sanction.
So Guatemalan society has grown accustomed throughout the 36 years of internal armed conflict and then the 13 years of democratic life after the conflict was over -- to this generalized atmosphere of impunity, in which -- because crimes are not dealt with through the proper channels of authority, are not prosecuted and do not receive the proper legal punishment; then the population at large has resorted, in this system of high inequality, to other means of settling disputes, other means of securing their own well-being or the resources they need.
Or if you have the look through the demographics of Guatemala, in which 70 percent of the population, out of 13 million inhabitants, are below 30 years of age -- it's an extremely young country -- a quarter of a million youngsters go to the labor market every year, and the economy cannot absorb them. So they either migrate illegally to the north or they have to become part of this illegal economic system that prevails.
REP. PAYNE: Yes?
MS. ISAACS: Yeah, I looked up a few statistics, just to give you a sense of this, sort of the most recent ones, and you're -- just to support what's been said here, and then to say two other things. One is that the top 20 percent of the population in Guatemala gets two- thirds of all of the income of the country. So that gives you a sense of the degree of inequality that prevails.
The other thing I would say is that, in a context of impunity -- impunity generates more crime. And in the case of Guatemala, it tends to generate more crime also because people tend to find their own violent ways of resolving -- of solving conflicts, as -- and so they in turn -- violence breeds more violence in the absence of impunity -- in the presence of impunity, in the absence of a judicial system that you can either trust or access. So these are additional problems that Guatemala faces.
And the other legacy of the armed conflict, which again is very, very recent -- so this is coming in the context of this -- is that there's a lack of respect for human life, which is a system that is very tolerant of violence, strikingly so, if one goes to Guatemala.
REP. PAYNE: Well, let me thank you very much.
From what I understand, Guatemala has one of the most inequitable distributions of wealth in the world. It was kind of shocking. And I agree, when the authorities really have very little regard for people at the bottom, there's, you know, it just -- that's what they do. And you go on about your business, which is unfortunate.
Well, hopefully we will be able to come up with some constructive ways to, perhaps assist the new government.
At least we see that, evidently, the person elected president tends to want to help alleviate the problems of the poor. Of course, it's a gigantic task that it seems like he has before him. But we will certainly try to see whatever we can do to assist the situation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you, Mr. Payne.
Let me ask one last question, which doesn't have much do to with everything we've talked about. I think we've covered all the important issues very, very quickly, or very thoroughly, I should say. And I appreciate it very much.
In his inaugural address, President Colom vowed to put what he called a Mayan face on his government, in a country in which the indigenous majority has often been excluded from the political mainstream. Mr. Payne, of course, was referring to that.
Has the president lived up to his promise? And what more needs to be done? We find that we have this problem in many of the countries in the hemisphere where the indigenous population is pushed aside and taken for granted and not in the political mainstream at all.
Anyone want to give that a shot? Is a Mayan face on the government of President Colom?
MR. SCHNEIDER: I think that for all of us the answer is not enough has been done. When you look at the disparity between access to education, access to health care, access to jobs, the access to justice between the Mayan population and the general population, it's clear from every study -- the World Bank just did a study on poverty in Guatemala about two, three years ago that showed huge disparities in everything -- access to prenatal care. There's no area where there's anywhere near a similar access for the Mayan population as for the general population.
And while the government has, I think, begun to do certain things in the rural areas, much, much more needs to be done. And part of it, I think, is finding the way to engage the Mayan community itself in sort of -- in helping to define what programs are needed, which ones are most successful.
One of the way that we have argued, in response to the fiscal crisis now, is that Guatemala needs to look at the same thing that Brazil has had, a conditional cash transfer that would go to the individual, that would provide additional resources to the poor, and particularly to the most vulnerable, in this case the Mayan population. That kind of cash transfer should be -- would be somewhat of a safety net for the vulnerable populations.
REP. ENGEL: Thank you.
MS. ISAACS: Yeah, I mean, the answer here is also a resounding "no." It's actually quite shameful the distortion between the campaign promises and what's been delivered in the first year and a half. So there's one Mayan cabinet minister. There are 18 indigenous deputies in a chamber of 158 -- is that the number? -- which is about 11 percent of the chamber, although the Mayan represent over half of the population. And as Mark Schneider said, there -- we see the socio-economic disparities that the Mayan community faces.
What -- there have been cash transfer program that have been introduced. And the challenge remains -- and I want to underscore what Mark said towards the end -- is to find a way to empower Mayan communities so that somebody non-Mayan or somebody can purport to speak and to claim a Mayan face.
The challenge -- and I think U.S. policy can make a considerable difference there -- is enabling Mayans with a Mayan face to speak for themselves. And in the segment of my written statement where I sort of talk about citizenship rights and access to education and higher education opportunities that Mayan communities, Mayan individuals desperately need so that they can find an entree into leadership positions in a variety of fields, which will enable somebody else not to assume that face, but for them with a Mayan face to speak in concert with others.
I'd also like to say that the election of Obama has proven a tremendous inspiration for Mayans in Guatemala. And they have -- in fact, many of the people, my colleagues whom I know and have worked with for years have done an about-face in the past two years or so as they've watched the U.S. electoral campaign and the election of Obama. And they've moved from a vision of political power that was much closer to following in the footsteps of Evo Morales in Bolivia, to embracing a kind of post-racial order that Obama has so inspirationally put forward here in the United States.
So I think that if there was some way to encourage that, to enable that to come about in Guatemala, we would be looking at a society that would finally have overcome the historical divisions, the historical polarization that has been the source of armed conflict for 36 years and long before. So I think it's a challenge that the U.S. is well-suited to pursue in the Guatemalan case.
REP. ENGEL: Well, Dr. Isaacs, I think we'll let that be the last word, unless someone really is urged -- has a great urge to talk, because I think that was -- sum up -- Mr. Stein, I don't know if your hand's up or not. I can't tell.
It is. Okay. We'll let you have the last word.
MR. STEIN: I'm not, perhaps, the appropriate person to speak about President Colom's promise to give a Mayan face to his government because part of my responsibility as a vice president was precisely to open up opportunities of participation to the Mayan people as well as the Xinca and Garifuna people in my country. But go beyond the face. I think it's important to open up options for a voice and the thinking of those communities. And we have an enormous baggage of cultural and deep-rooted religious thinking in those communities that we have to learn from.
And perhaps part of the divisions and part of the different sharp ravines that have existed could be bridged rather easily if we start looking at it from a different perspective, Mr. Chairman.
If we look at local governments, more than half of the mayors of the country are from indigenous origin. So it's just a matter of strengthening those opportunities for indigenous leaders to participate in decision-making positions, but on their own right, not as a condescending position from the non-indigenous population.
REP. ENGEL: Well, we'll thank you very much. We'll let that be the last word from the panel.
I just want to say -- first of all, I want to thank all four of you for a very excellent testimony. And you know, I've been doing this for a while now and I am really struck by the fact that there was virtually no disagreement among the four of you. Little bit here and there, but not really. And I think that speaks volumes for, you know, what really needs to be done in Guatemala.
The purpose of this hearing is for the subcommittee to obviously find out and explore and have experts -- witnesses come and tell us what they think. But it seems to me that we pretty much know what the problems are and what really could or should be done to get at the problems.
And I just was very taken by the fact that all of you not only contributed but all really were in agreement. So I think that this was a very good step in letting the Congress see the problem with Guatemala.
Obviously, we haven't had hearings for each country in the hemisphere. And the fact that we singled out Guatemala -- we did it because we know it's important.
We know that while we are on the northern border of Mexico, they are on the southern border of Mexico. And therefore, we know that what happens in Guatemala affects the United States. There's no way that we can put our head in the sand and pretend that it's over there and doesn't affect us and it doesn't touch our border so therefore, you know, we can think about it as something that is far away. It is not far away. And I think you all made that very, very clear. And we need to do something about it. And I hope that the administration will take heed. And we will be working with them to coordinate policy, U.S. policy for the region.
I thank the witnesses for excellent testimony.
And the subcommittee hearing is now -- (sounds gavel) -- closed. Thank you.