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Public security in private hands: the case of Guatemala’s Carlos Vielman


The following case study concerns the period in which Carlos Vielman, a well-heeled Guatemalan businessman from a prominent family, became the interior minister of the Óscar Berger administration. While minister, Vielman oversaw the creation of several special units that “acted as an organized crime group,” according to Guatemalan and international investigators. He, along with several of his police deputies were eventually charged for murder. He was later exonerated by a court in Spain, while others were prosecuted. This case study delves into that period, exploring how Vielman’s ministry represented an extension of the Guatemalan elite’s approach towards security and the government writ large to thwart rivals, regardless of the violent and criminal consequences.

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  1. The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) is a United Nations-backed appendage of the Attorney General’s Office of Guatemala that began in 2007. It includes international prosecutors who assist investigations related to criminal-state actors.

  2. Bureaucratic -- or what are sometimes referred to as administrative or institutional -- elites draw on their official posts to gain influence and power [18]. They are often a hybrid form of elite, deriving power from their status as landholders or businesspeople, but using their control of government posts they have gained -- either via election, appointment or ascension -- to set the agenda on security, among other issues.

  3. The Guatemalan military controlled the executive branch off-and-on for nearly 30 years.

  4. The head of the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Executions and the Human Rights Ombudsman Office also noted the direct participation of high level police in extrajudicial executions, which the UN said represented between eight and 10 % of all the homicides in 2006 and 2007 [24].

  5. Soto Diéguez was later convicted for these murders in 2013, and sentenced to 33 years in prison [3, 4].

  6. According to World Bank data from 2013, Guatemala collected 10.926% of the GDP, one of the lowest tax revenue rates as a percentage of GDP in the world.

  7. In Alta Verapaz, for example, the Zetas criminal organization purchased large amounts of cardamom as part of a plan to launder its proceeds; its interlocutor was a local with political and business ties [27].

  8. The number of construction companies registered with the government went from 84 in 1998, to over 2000 in 2014 [28].


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Correspondence to Steven Dudley.

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Co-director and co-founder of Insight Crime and head of research for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean; senior fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, Washington D.C.

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Dudley, S. Public security in private hands: the case of Guatemala’s Carlos Vielman. Crime Law Soc Change 69, 519–531 (2018).

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  • Elites
  • Organized crime
  • Guatemala
  • Corruption
  • Violence