PICTURE a nation of 15m people where each year there are more murders than in the entire European Union, a middle-income country where the rate of child malnutrition is higher than in most of sub-Saharan Africa, and where these and other problems are rendered insoluble by a chronic inability to levy taxes. A few years ago this was Guatemala. Talk abounded of a “failed state” in the making.
Yet in a speech on January 14th, a year after taking office as Guatemala’s president, Otto Pérez Molina could plausibly declare that a “new era” has begun. He pointed to gains in security, public health and fiscal reform. Seven out of ten voters support Mr Pérez, a former army general.
Guatemala remains a troubled country, threatened by the international drugs trade as well as by its own weaknesses. But there are signs that it may at last be pulling out of its downward spiral. Security, the most acute problem, has been slowly improving. Last year saw 34 murders per 100,000 people, nearly a tenth fewer than in 2011 and almost a quarter down on 2009, the worst recent year.
That is still enough to place Guatemala among the world’s 20 most violent countries. But those who kill are less likely to get away with it than they were. The number of murders in the capital that were solved in 2012 was equal to nearly a third the number of those recorded, up from a twentieth four years ago. In the rest of the country the rate was almost a fifth, compared with near zero in 2009. More gangsters were rounded up in the roughest barrios. Security cameras have helped bring Guatemala City’s tourist area back to life—though midday muggings at gunpoint still occur.