31 December 2011 |

Guatemala: Internal displacement in brief

As of December 2011


In 2011, little was known about the number and situation of people displaced by the long conflict between the government and insurgents grouped under the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca). During the conflict, the armed forces conducted a campaign of repression and terror against the Mayan indigenous population while fighting the insurgents. The conflict ended in 1996 and left between 500,000 and 1.5 million people, most of them indigenous, internally displaced across Guatemala, with many in the shanty towns of the capital Guatemala City. 

No mechanisms were set up to monitor and facilitate access to durable solutions for IDPs, but in a context of widespread poverty and scarce economic opportunity, it is unlikely that IDPs have been able to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. 

Since 2007, following a crackdown by the Mexican government against drug cartels there, the cartels have reportedly increased their operations and levels of violence in Guatemala. In May 2011, the Zetas cartel killed 27 cattle ranch workers there. Drug cartel and gang violence have reportedly caused displacement, but no new information or figures were available in 2011. The new president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, has stated that the government will tackle illegal drug gangs head on. Meanwhile, as in previous years, it is believed that people have been forced to flee from poor urban neighbourhoods controlled by gangs, who extort money from families. 

Violence has increased in the context of the government’s inability to build strong institutions since the transition to peace in 1996. The UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, established in 2007 to help the country fight crime, corruption and impunity, continued implementing its mandate in 2011. The possibility that Efraín Ríos Montt, the dictator under whose leadership the worst atrocities were committed, would be prosecuted after his parliamentary immunity runs out in 2012 gave indigenous communities hope of progress in addressing the prevailing impunity.