Date: Sat, 30 Mar 1996 07:59:52 -0600
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Mobs' Justice: Street Lynchings
Cerigua Weekly Briefs, No.13, 27 March 1996
Guatemala City, March 27. The failure of the Guatemalan police and justice system to curb crime is producing a grim harvest. This week in separate incidents angry Guatemalans killed and then set fire to five suspected criminals.
On March 22, residents of Nueva Concepcion, Escuintla province stormed the local police station, wrestled weapons from four police agents and dragged away two suspected kidnappers. Some 50 feet from the station, the mob shot dead Jose Alberto Castillo Mazariegos and Mario Solorzano Chvez. Later residents stopped the pick-up that was carrying the corpses to the morgue, hauled the two bodies onto the highway and set fire to them.
This mob killing set off a chain of lynchings that have authorities here shaken. On March 24 in Guatemala City passers-by burned alive a man they caught robbing a church. And the next day in San Pedro Sacatepequez, some ten miles from the capital, a mob hung and then burned a man they accused of killing a local merchant. Yesterday, some 200 residents of Comalapa, Chimaltenango province hung a suspected mugger, then doused his corpse with gasoline and ignited it.
Most commentators blame the failed justice system for the killings. "Harassed by crime and the impunity with which the perpetrators act, citizens have opted for the barbarous response of punishing, on the spot and with total violence, those who keep them in constant fear," reads a recent Prensa Libre editorial.
Authorities do not have a ready solution to reassure citizens. Congress is considering emergency measures to eliminate the possibilty of bail or house arrest for those charged with violent crimes. And a bill before the legislature proposes stiffer sentences for homicide, theft and assault. Kidnapping already carries the death penalty. But the measures do not address the problem of crime prevention.
Meanwhile Presidential Secretary Ricardo de la Torre has pleaded with citizens to renew their faith in the justice system's ability to end the crime wave by legal means. Vice Minister of the Interior Mario Cifuentes reports an average of one to two kidnappings a day, in the capital alone. And according to the daily Siglo Veintiuno, car theft, kidnappings and homicides in the country have increased 100 percent over last year.
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