GUATEMALA CITY — The U.S. Defense Department has suspended military aid to Guatemalan police over the questionable use of armored vehicles donated by Washington, officials said Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy said via text message that since August, Guatemala's Interior Ministry "has repeatedly used (the vehicles) in an incorrect way."
Therefore, it continued the department "has ceased transfer of equipment and training to the task forces," which are under the purview of the Interior Ministry and are charged with things like border enforcement and fighting smuggling and crime.
It added that future support for Guatemala's Ministry of Defense will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Guatemalan authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard teamed up for the largest cocaine seizure in the Central American country’s history, finding the haul on a cargo ship in international waters off the Pacific coast, officials announced Tuesday.
On Aug. 31, 2018, about a dozen of the vehicles were briefly deployed outside the headquarters of a U.N.-backed anti-corruption commission as President Jimmy Morales announced he would not renew the body's mandate.
Some vehicles were also near the U.S. Embassy in an exclusive neighborhood of Guatemala City, and some activists and U.S. lawmakers considered the deployments acts of intimidation.
In a statement, Morales' government responded to the news by saying its relationship with the United States has been reciprocal for cooperation and support on matters such as security and transnational threats.
Guatemala's security institutions "act in accordance with national law," it said.
Analyst and former Interior Minister Francisco Jimenez called the U.S. decision an important message with a political impact.
"There is displeasure over the bad use of the donations, because it interferes in the results that they expected, which is what they were intended for: the fight against narco-trafficking and crime," Jimenez said.
“This is a clear message to the interior minister (over) how he has managed the use of these donations,” Jimenez added.