|Harold Sibaja, during his lecture|
Youth and violence was the theme of the panel forum that, as part of the IV Inter-College Seminar Economy for Politics, organized by the Public Choice Analysis Center of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín.
Before the panel, Harold Sibaja from USAID made a presentation of the document titled USAID Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment. This study was made to know deeply the gang problems in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and the frontiers with Mexico and Nicaragua so this organization could design a strategy to fight youth violence.
The study estimates that in Guatemala there are 14,000 gang members spread between the gangs Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th gang. It also mentions the international aspects of this phenomena and the adaptability of the gangs; they have become more violent, they recruit children 8 years old, and not all the gang members are the same. The leaders have connections with organized crime and drug dealers. The USAID suggests a triple strategy of prevention, intervention and re-enforcing the law, taking into account that harsh policies, by themselves, will have no effective results.
The intervention of Sibaja lead to the discussion of the panel forum integrated by two panelists that have worked in programs against youth violence and have first hand experiences. They are Juan Carlos Conde, who works at Mixcos city hall and is from the marginal neighborhood El Milagro, one of the most affected by gangs; and the General Carlos Villagrán de León who, as commander of the Military Police of the Guardia de Honor, is promoting an integral pilot plan to fight the problem. Also father Juan Carlos Nuñez, who combines his experience as a priest and a field researcher with an academic point of view; by Ph.D. Francisco Beltranena who gave his vision as columnist and University professor; and Carlos Mendoza, candidate to a Ph.D. in Political Sciences by Notre Dame University, who has made research on the countrys collective violence.
The panel was moderated by Karen Cancinos, member of CADEP, who questioned them on the causes of these phenomena, the public policies that have worked and failed, trying to get the panelists to recommend on this theme. Family disintegration, negligent paternity, lack of identity and a sense of belonging, as well as the climate of impunity were the main causes identified in the forum. The governments answer to the phenomena has not been satisfactory. Conde and Beltranena stated the deficiencies in the law enforcement; there is no certainty in punishment for the delinquents, extorsioners and murderers. Mendoza warned us on the need of deeply studying the causes in order to design better public policies and warned us against formulas that can work in some places but not in other. Villagrán and Nuñez agreed on enforcing the law but remembered us that we cannot stay there because it is necessary to improve the educational conditions and the job expectations of the youth.
The forum was held last Thursday 31st of August 2006 at the Milton Friedman Auditorium of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín.