Countering Criminal Insurgencies: Fighting Gangs and Building Resilient Communities in Post-War Guatemala

  • Markus Hochmüller
  • Markus-Michael Müller


During the Cold War, Guatemala has witnessed one of the most brutal and prolonged counter-insurgency campaigns. While many observers interpreted the return to democracy in 1996 as a rupture with the country’s counter-insurgent past, this chapter demonstrates the renaissance of counter-insurgent violence in contemporary Guatemala. We show how transnational security governance efforts aimed at confronting the local ‘criminal insurgency’ represented by street gangs, introduce a new pattern of counter-insurgent violence into the country’s social fabric. As liberal state-building projects have largely failed to deliver the expected results in the local ‘war on gangs’, local and external actors increasingly promote the creation of ‘resilient’ communities within the field of counter-insurgency-inspired anti-gang policies, thereby blurring the boundaries between transnational policing, military operations and development aid.


Counter-insurgency Guatemala Street gangs Resilience Transnational security governance 


  1. Arias, E.D., and M. Ungar. 2009. Community Policing and Latin America’s Citizen Security Crisis. Comparative Politics 41(4): 409–429.Google Scholar
  2. Baires Quezada, R. 2013. No podemos salirnos de la zona en la que ya quitamos territorio a los delincuentes. Entrevista con Mauricio López Bonilla, Plaza Pública, 6 June. Accessed 7 January 2014.
  3. Bertetto, J.A. 2013. Counter-Gang Strategy: Adapted COIN in Policing Criminal Street Gangs. Small Wars Journal. Accessed 21 January 2015.
  4. Biden, J.R. Jr. 2015. Joe Biden: A Plan for Central America. The New York Times, 29 January. Accessed 15 April 2015.
  5. Briggs, R. 2010. Community Engagements for Counterterrorism. Lessons from the United Kingdom. International Affairs 86(4): 971–981.Google Scholar
  6. Brogden, M., and G. Ellison. 2013. Policing in an Age of Austerity: A Postcolonial Perspective. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Brogden, M., and P. Nijhar. 2005. Community Policing: National and International Models and Approaches. Portland: Willan Publishing.Google Scholar
  8. Bulley, D. 2013. Producing and Governing Community (Through) Resilience. Politics 33(4): 265–275.Google Scholar
  9. Bunker, R.J. 2010. The U.S. Strategic Imperative Must Shift from Iraq/Afghanistan to Mexico/the Americas and the Stabilization of Europe. Small Wars Journal. Accessed 11 May 2014.
  10. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). 2014. Police Program. Accessed 29 January 2015.
  11. Chandler, D. 2012. Resilience and Human Security: The Post-Interventionist Paradigm. Security Dialogue 43(3): 213–229.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 2014. Resilience. The Governance of Complexity. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. ———. 2015. Resilience and the “Everyday”: Beyond the Paradox of “Liberal Peace”. Review of International Studies 41(1): 27–48.Google Scholar
  14. CNN. 2012. Pérez Molina insta al Ejército a ‘neutralizar’ al crimen organizado, 16 January.
  15. Coaffee, J., and P. Fussey. 2015. Constructing Resilience Through Security and Surveillance: The Politics, Practices and Tensions of Security-Driven Resilience. Security Dialogue 46(1): 86–105.Google Scholar
  16. Development Services Group, Inc. 2013. Gang Prevention.
  17. DOS (US Department of State). 2012a. The Central America Regional Security Initiative: Safe Streets. Accessed 2 February 2015.
  18. ———. 2012b. The Central America Regional Security Initiative: State Presence and Security in At-Risk Communities. Accessed 2 February 2015.
  19. ———. 2012c. The Central America Regional Security Initiative: Citizen Security, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law. Accessed 2 February 2015.
  20. ———. 2013. USAID’s Lopes on Crime in Latin America, Caribbean. Testimony of Mark Lopes Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 19 June. Accessed 20 January 2014.
  21. ———. 2015a. Congressional Budget Justification. Foreign Operations. Appendix 2. Washington, DC: US Department of State.Google Scholar
  22. ———. 2015b. House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. Washington, DC: US Department of State.Google Scholar
  23. DOS (US Department of State). n.d. Central America Regional Security Initiative. Accessed 12 January 2015.
  24. Duffield, M. 2012. Challenging Environments: Danger, Resilience and the Aid Industry. Security Dialogue 43(5): 475–492.Google Scholar
  25. Evans, B., and J. Reid. 2014. Resilient Life. The Art of Living Dangerously. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  26. Finkenbusch, P. 2014. The Knowledge Paradox of Statebuilding: Serendipitous Expansion in the Merida Initiative. PhD thesis, Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin.Google Scholar
  27. Gobierno de Guatemala. 2013a. En 2013 Gobierno de Guatemala fortaleció seguridad ciudadana con Fuerzas de Tarea, 18 December, Fehler! Linkverweis ungültig. Accessed 17 December 2014.Google Scholar
  28. ———. 2013b. Instauran Plan Cuadrante en Antigua Guatemala. Accessed 5 January 2014.
  29. Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. 2013. Rethinking the Drug War in Central America and Mexico: Guatemala Section.
  30. Hochmüller, M., and M.-M. Müller. 2014. Encountering Knowledge Production: The International Crisis Group and the Making of Mexico’s Security Crisis. Third World Quarterly 35(4): 705–722.Google Scholar
  31. ———. 2016. Locating Guatemala in Global Counterinsurgency. Globalizations 13(1): 94–109.Google Scholar
  32. Instituto de Enseñanza para el Desarrollo Sostenible (IEPADES). 2004. Manual de seguridad preventiva y policía comunitaria. Guatemala City: IEPADES.Google Scholar
  33. International Crisis Group (ICG). 2012. Police Reform in Guatemala: Obstacles and Opportunities. Accessed 28 January 2015.
  34. ———. 2015. Back from the Brink: Saving Ciudad Juárez. Accessed 15 April 2015.
  35. Jamieson, R., and K. McEvoy. 2005. State Crime by Proxy and Juridical Othering. British Journal of Criminology 45(4): 504–527.Google Scholar
  36. Kilcullen, D. 2010. Counterinsurgency. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Lentzos, F., and N. Rose. 2009. Governing Insecurity: Contingency Planning, Protection, Resilience. Economy & Society 38(2): 230–254.Google Scholar
  38. Levenson, D.T. 2013. Adiós Niño. The Gangs of Guatemala City and the Politics of Death. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  39. McAllister, C., and D.M. Nelson. 2013. Introduction. Aftermath: Harvests of Violence and Histories of the Future. In War By Other Means: Aftermath in Post-Genocide Guatemala, eds. C. McAllister, and D.M. Nelson, 1–45. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  40. McChrystal, S. 2013. My Share of the Task. A Memoir. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.Google Scholar
  41. Moe, L.W. 2015. TheTurn to the Local”: Hybridity, Local Ordering and the New Governing Rationals of Peace and Security Interventions in Somalia. PhD Thesis, Brisbane: School of Political and International Studies, The University of Queensland.Google Scholar
  42. ———. 2016. The Strange Wars of Liberal Peace: Hybridity, Complexity and the Governing Rationalities of Counterinsurgency in Somalia. Peacabuilding 4(1): 99–117.Google Scholar
  43. Moe, L.W., and M.-M. Müller. 2015. Resilience as Warfare: Interventions and the Militarization of the Social in Haiti and Somalia. Kriminologisches Journal 47(4): 279–296.Google Scholar
  44. Montepeque M., and S. Carolina. 2012. Lineamientos generales del modelo policial. Propuestas para el caso de Guatemala. Accessed 2 February 2015.
  45. Müller, M.-M. 2010. Community Policing in Latin America: Lessons from Mexico City. Revista Europea de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe/European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 88: 21–37.Google Scholar
  46. ———. 2015. Punitive Entanglements. The War on Gangs and the Making of a Transnational Penal Apparatus in the Americas. Geopolitics 20(3): 696–727.Google Scholar
  47. Murray, M. 2012. Counterinsurgency and Community Policing in Afghanistan. Small Wars Journal Blog Post, January 1. Accessed 3 February 2015.
  48. O’Neill, K.L. 2012. The Soul of Security: Christianity, Corporatism, and Control in Postwar Guatemala. Social Text 30(2): 21–42.Google Scholar
  49. Pearce, J. 2010. Perverse State Formation and Securitized Democracy in Latin America. Democratization 17(2): 286–306.Google Scholar
  50. Pilcher, M. 2010. Counterinsurgency: Can It Be Used to Combat Domestic Crime? Sacramento, CA: California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.Google Scholar
  51. PNUD (Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo). 2011. Mi familia progresa. Ejercicio de apreciación sustantiva.,%20MIFAPRO.pdf. Accessed 8 January 2015.
  52. Policing & Society. 2012. Special Issue on Community Policing in Latin America: Innovations and Challenges, edited by E.D. Arias and M. Ungar, 22:1.Google Scholar
  53. Politics. 2013. Special Issue on Security and the Politics of Resilience, edited by J. Brassett, S. Croft and N. Vaughan-Williams.Google Scholar
  54. Porch, D. 2013. Counterinsurgency. Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Rabe, S.G. 2012. The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Relea, F. 2007. “Mano dura, cabeza y corazón”. El País, 8 September.
  57. Ricks, T.E. 2009. The COINdinistas. Foreign Policy, 30 November. Accessed 28 January 2015.
  58. Rivera Clavería, J. 2012. Hacer frente a la delincuencia: informe sobre las acciones de las fuerzas de tarea. Accessed 7 January 2014.
  59. Schirmer, J.G. 1998. The Guatemalan Military Project: a Violence Called Democracy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  60. Security Dialogue. 2015. Special Issue on Resilience and (In)Security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities, edited by M. Dunn-Cavelty, M. Kaufmann and K. Soby-Kristensen.Google Scholar
  61. Seelke, C.R. 2013. Gangs in Central America. CRS Report for Congress. Accessed 15 December 2013.
  62. Stanley, R. 2006. The Globalisation of “Democratic” Policing. Community Policing as an Export Model. In The Plurality of Modernity. Decentring Sociology, eds. S. Costa, J.M. Domingues, W. Knöbl, and J.P. Da Silva, 87–98. München: Hampp.Google Scholar
  63. Streicher, R. 2013. Gendering Counterinsurgency in Southern Thailand. PhD thesis, Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin.Google Scholar
  64. Sullivan, J.P. 2009. Future Conflict: Criminal Insurgencies, Gangs and Intelligence. Small Wars Journal. Accessed 4 February 2015.
  65. ———. 2010. Criminal Insurgency in the Americas. Small Wars Journal. Accessed 19 October 2014.
  66. ———. 2012. From Drug Wars to Criminal Insurgency. Small Wars Journal Blogpost, 5 March. Accessed 7 July 2014.
  67. Sullivan, J. P., and A. Elkus. 2008. State of Siege: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency. Small Wars Journal. Accessed 4 February 2015.
  68. The Washington Times. 2013. Massachusetts Police Take Iraq Counterinsurgency Tactics to Streets to Fight Gangs, 6 May. Accessed 7 February 2015.
  69. The White House. 2013. FACT SHEET: United States Support for Central American Citizen Security, 4 May. Accessed 15 April 2015.
  70. Tickner, A.B. 2014. Colombia, the United States, and Security Cooperation by Proxy. Washington Office on Latin America. Accessed 1 February 2015.
  71. United States Army and Marine Corps. 2006. Field Manual No. 3-24 (FM 3-24): Counterinsurgency. Washington, DC. Accessed 21 December 2014.
  72. USAID (United States Agency for International Development). 2011. Community Policing in Central America: The Way Forward. Washington, DC: White Paper. Accessed 2 February 2015.
  73. ———. 2012a. Building Resilience to Recurrent Crisis. Accessed 12 January 2015.
  74. ———. 2012b. A Toolkit for Urban Resilience in Situations of Chronic Violence. Accessed 12 January 2015.
  75. ———. 2013. United States Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, Accessed 12 January 2015.
  76. Waddington, P.A.J. 1984. Community Policing: A Skeptical Appraisal. Law and Order and British Politics, ed. P. Norton, 84–96. Aldershot: Gower.Google Scholar
  77. Williams, K. 2011. The Other Side of the COIN: Counterinsurgency and Community Policing. Interface 3(1): 81–117.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Markus Hochmüller
    • 1
  • Markus-Michael Müller
    • 2
  1. 1.Freie Universität Berlin, Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 700BerlinGermany
  2. 2.Freie Universität Berlin, ZI Lateinamerika-InstitutBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations