The international narcotics crisis facing our society and countless others is a pressing issue which, as of recently, frequently finds itself at the forefront of our news stations, newspapers, social media, hospitals and legal system.
In 2018, the Department of Drug Enforcement Administration conducted a National Drug Threat Assessment aimed at defining the seriousness of the opioid crisis being experienced in the United States. They found that “controlled prescription drugs remain responsible for the largest number of overdose deaths of any illicit drug class since 2011.” Drug traffickers have taken advantage of this and have started, “disguising other opioids as controlled prescription drugs to gain access to this market.” Heroin related deaths nearly doubled between 2013-2016 in America, with 2016 numbering approximately 174 human deaths – daily – as a result of drop poisoning alone.
The transnational criminal organizations remain the primary narcotics threat to America – and these cartels are responsible for a significant portion of illegal narcotic substances entering the nation.
Drugs in Guatemala
Although many American families have experienced the tragedy caused by the drug-trade firsthand, through the loss of a parent, child, spouse or friend, our nation is not the only one suffering immense devastation at the hand of these colossal cartels.
Guatemala is a small country placed conveniently right in the center of Mexico and Colombia – two of the most significant sources of illegal narcotics. It has consequently served as an intersection for the cartels to traffic large quantities of drugs back and forth to North and South America.
Guatemala has been fighting a perilous battle against the drug trafficking conducted through their country for years with the resources that they have available to them; however, as one of the poorest in the western hemisphere, it has been an extremely difficult feat. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Guatemala ranked in the bottom quartile for gross domestic product per capita among Latin American countries, with approximately 60% of inhabitants existing below their national poverty level.
Due to this lack of financing and quality training offered to the Guatemalan police force, the citizens of Guatemala still suffer the negative impacts of the powerful drug trade every day, on an even more devastating level than we do in the United States.
Recently, Highland Canine had the opportunity to train a group of Guatemalan police K9 officers. This courageous group of men have dedicated their lives to making better the lives of other Guatemalan citizens and their families. We had the incredible opportunity to interview this group of handlers about their job, in addition to asking about the drug crisis in Guatemala. Is it really as bad as we think, and how does it impact the lives of Guatemalan citizens?
To get our answers, we spoke to three Guatemalan Police K9 handlers:
Officer Mynor Mendez – A penitentiary officer helping to support the intel areas of the prison departments to aid in conducting searches with K9s for all individuals entering jails and the areas surrounding them.
Officer Jose W Corrado – Police Inspector and K9 trainer specializing in narcotics and explosives detection.
Officer Rodvin Flores – Police Inspector and K9 trainer specializing in detection K9s based around the ports and borders of Guatemala.
Is there really a narcotics crisis in Guatemala?
After completing our initial introductions, we wanted to know a bit more about their day to day tasks as an officer in Guatemala. Attempting to locate narcotics being trafficked through the country was a primary responsibility, alongside issues such as domestic violence and organized crime. Officer Rodvin Flores informed us that, “drugs are definitely a big crisis in Guatemala. All the drugs are affecting our community.” He believes that much of the organized crime experienced in Guatemala is impacted by the illegal substances being constantly transported through the nation and sold to Guatemalan citizens.
All three officers are responsible for training police K9s for their units, and are making it a priority to train and deploy highly effective dogs – not just throughout the cities of Guatemala but all around the borders and at all ports of entrance.
So, is there really a narcotics crisis in Guatemala? As originally suspected, all three officers immediately agreed that there was quite a serious drug epidemic occurring in their nation – and that these drugs (and the cartels transporting them) are a serious problem for their community. “Guatemala is in the middle of the Americas… because we are in the middle of all these countries, Guatemala ends up being where all the drugs go,” Officer Jose W Corrado explains. Officer Rodvin Flores elaborates upon their concerns further, “All these drugs are affecting our community and our kids… Our kids first because they are the future of the country.”
The narcotics epidemic is a serious threat in Guatemala, as well as in many other small “intersection” countries located in Central America. Although these officers are desperately attempting to help their community through the utilization of detection dogs, the citizens of Guatemala do not see it that way. When asked, “As police K9 handlers, what are some of the biggest challenges that you face?” Officer Corrado explains, “Some of our largest challenges are with people in the city. The culture does not allow people to feel like they can work with police dogs. These dogs are a big tool for our work on the streets, but unfortunately normal people don’t see it as such.”
Officer Flores agrees, “Unfortunately, the culture of our people is that a lot of people do not want to be inspected by K9 units. They don’t want to see a dog working for the police.” The discomfort experienced by citizens of Guatemala is a result of an unfortunate disconnect between the police force and the civilian population. As a K9 officer, it can be difficult to effectively do your job when there is not a lot of quality education regarding police dogs and how effective they are at their work.
Officer Mendez believes that the education they have received through their handler course will not only help improve their own work, but ensure that other K9 officers are doing their jobs correctly.
Upon returning to Guatemala, he will be training K9s and other officers who will be stationed in airports and around the border. Officer Mendez will also be working with the national police and army K9s to strengthen the Guatemalan security forces and hopefully improve their capability to detect and intercept illegal drugs being trafficked through the country.
Changing the future
These men are dedicated to creating positive change within their nation, throughout their community and for the well-being of the Guatemalan citizens. The Guatemalan forces recognize the importance of updating and improving their security strategies and have chosen this group of men to help implement it. The canine olfactory system is a highly intricate and refined detection tool, and human understanding of this incredible instrument has improved greatly through study and research.
Now more than ever, the full magnitude of capability that well-trained drug detection dogs possess is being appreciated by security forces world-wide. The narcotics epidemic that many countries are experiencing does not need to be a permanent tragedy. The police K9 may be the tool that we, and nations such as Guatemala, need to finally recover a level of control over drug trafficking, and thus enable us to improve the lives of our citizens and communities.