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Southern Pulse: The Politics of Corruption in Guatemala

  • Written by Southern Pulse
  • Friday, 30 August 2013
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Guatemalan President Otto Perez

Southern Pulse has released a new investigation into corruption in Guatemalan politics, which examines the connections between politics and drug cartels, influence peddling and embezzlement.

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The report is divided into three chapters. The first examines corruption in the current administration of President Otto Perez, including accusations of ties to drug cartels as well as alleged embezzlement by senior figures, along with a look at the work of the International Commission Against impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) . The second looks at the murky backgrounds of two of the principal funders of Guatemalan politics, while chapter three concludes with the role of corruption in politics and the prospects for the 2015 presidential elections.

The excerpts below are are reprinted with permission from Southern Pulse. The full report is available here.

In 2011, Guatemalan voters elected military intelligence chief and Kaibil Perez Molina as President. Perez Molina ran on a platform of "mano dura" or heavy-handedness in dealing with criminals in a campaign that quickly galvanized his international persona as someone who would be tough on crime and corruption. Since entering office, the new president's administration has netted some significant arrests and has certainly set back various drug trafficking organizations, from Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) to local logistics managers and transportista networks that subcontract for the TCOs to move produce through the country from Honduras and El Salvador to Mexico.

[...]

Since taking office, public criticism of the President Otto Perez in Guatemala focuses more on his failure to contain rampant crime, perhaps unfairly to the man if not the president. We must ask: might there be some sort of public office complicity? A central question is whether or not the president knows of back room dealings that generate the side effect of increased gangland crime and decides to not stop them. Plausible deniability, at the least, suggests otherwise. What's more likely is that individuals in his administration in concert with narcos, street gang leaders, business magnates and other politicians bend to near break the Guatemalan legal and political system. They manipulate a favorable outcome for a narrow band of their associates to the determent of most Guatemalans and the solvency of the country's democratic institutions and fair private sector practice. We have no concrete evidence tying Perez Molina to drug trafficking. In fact, Perez Molina was head of the Military Intelligence Division in 1992 when that group captured Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera (head of the Sinaloa Federation), and while much has changed in 20 years, the corruptive influence of money and power in Guatemala politics likely has not. If anything, it has deepened and evolved into a reality where prevalent institutionalized corruption has eclipsed disparate instances of corruption in various institutions

[...]

Meanwhile, Perez Molina's position as a shareholder in Aerocentro airlines, which operates between Guatemala and Honduras, adds further consideration to his proximity to Guatemala's criminal system. Guillermo Lozano, who was Perez Molina's pilot during the 2007 presidential campaign, owns Aerocentro, and, according to press reports and Southern Pulse sources, may work for or have worked for Sinaloa Federation proxies. In early 2012, the government awarded Aerocentro a contract to transport officials. The airline supposedly permits the discreet transport of people and goods without security checks and can ignore standard airport protocol at certain locations where airline directors have developed a relationship with the Aeronautical Directorate.

[...]

Another key allegation is that when the PP came to power in 2012 they apparently reinstalled two airport officials who were fired because they covered up the departure of two Zeta operators from a Huehuetenango airport en route to Alta Verapaz in late 2007. These Zeta operators allegedly assisted with the March 2008 assassination of local drugs trafficker Juancho Leon in Zacapa before moving on to more business and logistics-oriented functions. Though the president may not be aware, it appears as though his administration has facilitated the renewal of an internal logistics network that could serve Los Zetas or the Sinaloa Federation, or both. It should not be surprising, however, that criminal systems have penetrated customs and law enforcement in Guatemala.

In any case, Perez Molina offers lip service to the idea that dealing with such corruption is a necessary hurdle - the diffused effect of corruption tainting the judiciary, police and run-of-the-mill bureaucrats threatens traction gained by public security victories. One of the most alarming and often quoted statistics is that even major crimes have a prosecution rate of less than ten percent. While law enforcement suffers from many of the same problems as the courts (lack of funding, insufficient training, corruption, etc.), Perez Molina's administration has trained 3,000 additional police in 2012 to be deployed in 2013. Police reform is a popular topic. But corruption in the judiciary remains widespread, despite the much lauded—and criticized—work of the UN -backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which began work on 4 September 2007.

Excerpts reprinted with permission from Southern Pulse. They are all taken from "Chapter 1: Otto Perez Molina" of the report, "The Politics of Corruption in Guatemala (Pt II). The full report is available here.

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