Guatemala's president calls on troops to 'neutralize' organized crime

Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina addresses a crowd during his inauguration ceremony in Guatemala City on January 14, 2012.

Story highlights

  • President Otto Perez Molina says the military will work with other security institutions
  • The former military general campaigned on pledges to fight crime with an "iron fist"
  • Perez Molina says he will provide increased resources to the military
  • Guatemalans have said violence in their country is what concerns them most
Guatemala's new president has called on the military to help "neutralize" organized crime in the Central American nation.
A day after he took office, President Otto Perez Molina appeared to be making good on his campaign promises to fight rising crime and violence with an "iron fist."
"Today, publicly, I want to lay out for the army an important goal of collaborating, coordinating and cooperating with other security institutions, and that is to put an end to the external threats and contribute to neutralizing illegal armed groups by means of military power," he said Sunday.
Speaking to troops, Perez Molina said he would provide increased resources to the military. He said he had discussed the new strategy with his defense and interior ministers.
Poverty is endemic in Guatemala, and the country has one of the worst crime rates in Latin America. Forty-three percent of children under 5 years old are chronically malnourished. And the murder rate in 2010 was 42 per 100,000 people -- one of the highest in the world.
In a Vox Latina national survey in July, more than two-thirds of Guatemalans said violence was what concerned them most, far outpacing the combined totals for the economy, unemployment, poverty and lack of education.
Perez Molina's predecessor, Alvaro Colom, also used the military to crack down on crime. He declared states of siege in the provinces of Alta Verapaz and Peten, where groups such as Mexico's Zetas cartel had been strengthening their grip.
The temporary emergency decrees curtailed citizen liberties and allowed the military to order anyone suspected of conspiring against the government to be arrested and imprisoned without a warrant.
Human rights groups have expressed concerns about Perez Molina's high rank in the military during Guatemala's decades-long civil war.
Concerns stem from the fact that the Guatemalan military committed multiple atrocities during the civil war, although Perez Molina has never been directly implicated in any of them.
More than 200,000 people were killed or "disappeared" between 1966 and 1996, the United Nations estimates.