GUATEMALA CITY – A majority of Guatemalans distrust police and believe that members of youth gangs can be rehabilitated if they are given the opportunity, according to a poll published this week in the daily Prensa Libre.
The survey found 68% of respondents said they think that police are involved in criminal activity, and only 19.8% saying that cops protect the citizenry.
The poll was conducted in February and March among 2,000 Guatemalans by the firm Vox Latina, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Public mistrust “has been earned by the authorities who have been involved in crimes, but we’re trying to press ahead with the process of purging,” said Interior Minister Carlos Vielman.
Nearly 90% of those polled said they believe that young gang members could be rehabilitated, while 74% said they would be willing to voluntarily help these youths.
Guatemala is home to more than 400 gangs comprised of more than 60,000 young people, authorities estimate.
More than 54% of respondents said they disapprove of “social cleansing” – a practice that involves the summary killing of criminals by security forces and which has been denounced by human rights groups. But 43.2% said they approved.
The poll revealed that 36% of Guatemalans consider crime to be the country’s biggest problem.