Guatemala: top cops busted, death squads exposed

Guatemalan authorities March 2 arrested three top anti-narcotics officialsÔÇödays before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to visit the Central American nation to discuss Drug War strategy. Balt├ízar G├│mez Barrios, chief of the National Civil Police (PNC), was detained along with “Drug Czar” Nelly Judith Bonilla and her advisor Fernando Carrillo at the Division of Anti-Narcotics Analysis and Information (DAIA). They are accused of running a corruption ring linked to a gun-battle last April between traffickers and police over a 700-kilo consignment of confiscated cocaine in Amatitl├ín. Five DAIA agents were killed in the gun-fight, and 13 have been since been arrested in connection with it. (NYT, FT,* Siglo XX1, Guatemala, March 3; El Periodico, Guatemala, March 2)

Days before the arrests, Carlos Castresana, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) announced that last months he received verbal warnings from the former minister of Gobernaci├│n, Ra├║l Vel├ísquez of resurgent death squads in the country. Gobernaci├│n’s former vice-minister of Community Support, Francisco Cuevas, similarly stated in a radio broadcast that two death squads are active in the country, led by Gobernaci├│n vice-minister for Security, Marlene Blanco Lapola. He said informants told him in October that the groups are made up of some 30 men each, and one was code-named “El Payaso” (the Clown). (El Periodico, CEG, March 3)

*The Financial Times incorrectly names the PNC chief as “Balt├ízar Gonz├ílez”

See our last post on Guatemala.

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  1. Guatemala: prosecutor general ousted on corruption allegations
    The Guatemalan Constitutional Court on June 10 removed Prosecutor General Conrado Reyes from power. Reyes was appointed to the position by Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom late last month, but he came under close scrutiny earlier this week when the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Carlos Castresana, accused him of having ties to organized crime. Castresana included the accusation when citing his reasons for resigning from his position. The court did not specifically accuse Reyes of having ties to organized crime, but rather indicated that the constitutional process could not be harmed by the possibility of corruption. An interim attorney general has been appointed, and Reyes has indicated he will not appeal the decision.

    Corruption has remained a problem in Guatemala. In March, the US State Department released its 2010 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which highlighted Guatemala as a key player in the Latin American drug trade. Corruption among high-ranking officials was cited as one of the country’s biggest problems. The Congress of Guatemala voted to create the CICIG in 2007 in order to investigate organized crime and official corruption. (Jurist, June 11)