A Perfect Storm: How the Guatemalan Civil War, U.S. Immigration Policy and Drug Trafficking Organizations Debilitated the Guatemalan State
Ewing, Heather McMaster
Starting in 1960, a 36-year Civil War ravaged Guatemala ultimately leaving 200,000 people dead and 45,000 people disappeared. The violence that drove Guatemalans from the country during the war eventually saw a boomerang effect when U.S. immigration policy shifted and vicious gangs returned to the nation after years of operation in the United States. The powerful presence of the military and the lack of checks and balances during years of conflict allowed patterns of corruption to emerge both between officials and drug trafficking organizations and with elite Guatemalan families. Shifts in the path of the international drug trade allowed traffickers to take advantage of this history and move into Guatemala, clamoring for territory. By the time the Peace Accords were signed and the war ended, a poorly conceived plan to remove the military without an adequate civilian police force to take their place created an environment in which gangs, drug trafficking organizations and local bosses could operate illegally and freely. Together, the Guatemalan Civil War, U.S. immigration policy and shifts in international drug trafficking practices significantly debilitated the Guatemalan state, making it ill equipped to provide for its citizens basic social service and safety needs.