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Guatemala elections and drug cartels – also a risk for America

Drug cartels have a grip on Guatemala, harming that country and posing a risk to the US. September elections – and the government that emerges – need transparency and reform to free officials from the influence of cartels.

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Guatemalans go to the polls next month to elect a new government, but many fear the elections will be tainted by drug cartels and organized crime.The spike in political killings and drug-related bloodshed is so alarming that when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Guatemala in June, she upped by a third America’s pledge to help Central American leaders combat organized crime – promising a total of $300 million.

As the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs, the United States has a huge stake in preventing drug cartels from further infiltrating and destabilizing the already fragile Central American countries. Drug-related violence in Guatemala is at an all-time high; in 2009 the World Bank reported the death rate there was equal to that in Iraq, and it continues to rise.

This is due in large part to the influential Zeta drug cartel. It infiltrated Guatemala after the anti-drug war unleashed by President Felipe Calderón in Mexico – with US support – forced the cartel to expand operations outside of Mexico. The drug kings have used violence to permeate Guatemalan politics. That’s a worrying development for the September elections, when a president, congress, and local officials will be selected.

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