Álvaro Colom, the bookish former head of a prominent development agency, won the 2007 election with help from dubious operatives such as Obdulio Solórzano, who allegedly secured financial support from Mexican and Guatemalan organized crime groups. This story tracks Solórzano’s rise and his ignominious, bloody fall.
On December 27, 2010, a DJ at a local radio station in the central highlands of Guatemala, known for playing a mix of news, music and community programming, began reading a press release.
This is the first of three articles on illicit campaign financing in Guatemala. See the other articles here.
“This is a message to the President of Guatemala. We are the Zetas group, and we just wanted the country to know that President Álvaro Colom received $11,500,000 before elections ended,” the DJ read, seemingly in a rush. (See transcription here.)
The announcement over the Radio La Buena in the city of Cobán that morning jolted the locals, one of whom stopped his car, pulled out his phone and recorded the broadcast.
President Colom, the soft-spoken former businessman, had made it to the presidential palace by presenting himself as the antidote to corruption and favoritism towards elites. But the costs of that rise to power were high — there were rumors that he had accepted money from Guatemalan and Mexican drug traffickers for his campaign via a former congressman named Obdulio Solórzano, among other campaign operatives. The communique addressed these rumors, and it made clear that whatever deal may have been made was unraveling quickly.
“The person who sends this message is the same one who gave [the president] the money,” the DJ continued. “He has license plates and the addresses where the money was handed over, and, you, Mr. President, are the one who sold the country out to the Zetas.”
Colom’s political party, the National Unity of Hope (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza – UNE), is one of Guatemala’s oldest, and it has to date largely avoided the types of backbreaking accusations that other political parties are facing for their financing schemes. From the current president’s National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional – FCN-Nación) to the Patriotic Party (Partido Patriota – PP) and the former UNE offshoot known as the Renewed Democratic Liberty (Libertad Democrática Renovada – Líder), political parties in Guatemala are facing an unprecedented wave of prosecutions. Of these three, only FCN-Nación remains an active party, but the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo Electoral – TSE) has already filed paperwork to dissolve it, even while President Jimmy Morales tries to save his presidency.
On a personal level, Colom has been able to beat back these rumors, in part because at the tail end of his 2008 to 2012 term in office, he did go after drug traffickers. In the days prior the Zetas’ declaration over Radio La Buena, the president had dispatched the military to Cobán to chase the Zetas from the area, which had become the group’s de facto headquarters.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was also starting to close in on the group. In October 2010, police in Belize arrested and extradited a Zetas’ ally, a Guatemalan national named Otoniel Turcios, who was being pursued by the US and Guatemalan governments. Colom’s administration would later arrest and extradite several others as well.
The person who sends this message is the same one who gave [the president] the money.
However, on that morning, the Zetas offered a competing version of events. In their declaration, they said the Colom administration was covering up its crimes, not cracking down on criminals.
“You killed ‘The Mustache’ [Solórzano], and you handed Turcios over to the DEA because they were the people who gave you the money,” the DJ read.
Solórzano had been gunned down on a Guatemala City street in July 2010 — dozens of bullets pumped into him, gangland style.
The accusation was startling, not just because of its bold declarations, but because of what the Zetas said would follow.
“We will start the war in this country, in malls, in schools and in police stations in this country. These will be the payments of the $11,500,000 dollars that the president owes,” the DJ read. “Comply with your promises or fight with the beast.”
‘Yuyo’ and Turcios
Solórzano was a politician and a businessman who had come into UNE through the back door. A burly man with a beefy mustache, Solórzano had grown up in the southern department of Escuintla, a perennial passageway for drugs and contraband. Solórzano was a businessman, or as one former UNE official described him, a “fixer.” He arranged government contracts at the port and elsewhere and obtained a cut in the process. Solórzano used the proceeds to buy gasoline stations and hotels.
Solórzano’s connections with potentially dubious interests raised eyebrows inside the party when UNE’s nominal leader, Colom’s wife Sandra Torres, opened the way for him to run for Congress with the party in 2003. But UNE needed people like Solórzano. The party had an outside-in strategy. Guatemalan elections had long been dominated by those who controlled Guatemala City; no president had ever won elections without winning the capital. UNE sought to upend that formula.
The strategy came from experience. Although from a well-to-do family and an owner of factories, Colom had raised his profile by running a post-war, rural development arm of the government called the National Fund for Peace (Fondo Nacional para la Paz – FONAPAZ). FONAPAZ was an effort to reconstruct and assist areas of the country ravaged by a decades-long civil war. Colom made the most of his post, creating the foundation for the establishment of UNE.
But if the votes came from beneficiaries of FONAPAZ’s work and the political capital it yielded, the money had to come from somewhere else. Colom had virtually no support from the traditional monied interests in the country. When I met him a few years after his presidency ended in 2015, he said that although he was part of the country’s foremost business association, the Coordinating Commission of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras – CACIF), he was ostracized by his most prominent cohorts.
“I was never invited to the political meetings,” he told me, referring to the high-level gatherings between the economic and political elites in which many of the country’s issues were settled.
Colom did himself no favors by running for president as the candidate of the former leftist guerrilla coalition in the late 1990s. He also married Sandra Torres, a woman who many would falsely accuse of being a member of the guerrillas. Still, CACIF members rightly perceived that Torres and Colom would undermine them, and so they actively worked to keep the couple and their fledgling party, UNE, from the highest political perch.
UNE’s financial limitations were apparent in Colom’s 2003 electoral defeat to Óscar Berger, the CACIF’s preferred candidate that year. People like Solórzano were a way to bridge that financial gap. They were, in essence, the interlocutors who would manage the connections to the monied interests, no matter their origin.
By 2003, Solórzano’s networks were already strong. He had a prominent patron at the port and arranged for support from the would-be mayor of the city of Escuintla to run for office. That year Solórzano won enough votes to become a congressman of Escuintla; his ally won his mayoral election as well. Between them, they created a classic Guatemalan pipeline combining government contracts, kickbacks and money laundering, a former UNE official who worked closely with them told InSight Crime.
Solórzano kept a low profile in Congress (the same former UNE official described him as “very quiet”), but his economic fortunes caught the attention of party leaders. At the time, UNE was collecting financial quotas from its congressmen and mayors. Solórzano’s sizable contributions helped him begin a quick and steady rise through the ranks. For the 2007 elections, the party made Solórzano one of its top financial and political operatives.
Among the states under his purview was Alta Verapaz where he made contact with a businessman named Otoniel Turcios. Turcios had large agricultural and construction businesses, but he had also been connected to drug trafficking going back to the early 1990s. He worked with another area resident, Jorge Mario “El Gordo” Paredes, who was also trafficking drugs, and by 2007, the two of them were under investigation by the DEA.
Through Solórzano, Turcios saw an opportunity to keep law enforcement at bay, as well as secure some government business. The relationship between Solórzano and Turcios evolved quickly. Turcios helped him make contacts with underworld figures. They later bought property together, according to one former UNE official who traveled with Solórzano to meet with Turcios on one of these properties on at least one occasion. This same official, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity because of legal concerns, said the Turcios connection brought Solórzano to “another level.” (Two of Solórzano’s surviving family members declined to comment for this story.)
Turcios later fulfilled his end of the bargain by providing the campaign with money and other forms of assistance like transport services and gasoline. The two became close. When Solórzano worked in Alta Verapaz, he stayed at Turcios’ house in Cobán. Turcios soon took to calling him “Yuyo,” Solórzano’s longtime nickname.
Win the Countryside, Win the Country
To upend the political paradigm of winning the general election without winning Guatemala City, the campaign had to focus on the countryside. This meant it had to pay community and political leaders to get them to rally voters, and it had to provide them with transportation and other logistics, so they could actually vote.
In the second round of the 2007 election, UNE also faced a well-funded foe: retired military general Otto Pérez Molina and his Patriotic Party. Pérez Molina had parlayed his own contacts to beef up his coffers, including with prominent members of the CACIF, a process that would accelerate for his next, successful run at the presidency.
UNE’s answer to these problems, according to multiple sources who worked in or with the campaign, as well as a report by judicial investigators at the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), was to turn to illicit sources.
The campaign was essentially broken into three major revenue streams, the report said. At the top, operating in a more official capacity liaising with the more traditional sources of financing, including from the pharmaceutical industry and construction companies, was Gustavo Alejos.
Alejos managed the pharmaceutical company, J.I. Cohen, and was a powerful political and economic elite in his own right. Alejos would also make significant contributions to the campaign and later become chief of staff so he could begin to channel business to his and his allies’ businesses, the CICIG said.
Sandra Torres’ sister, Gloria Torres, was the second major “collector,” as the CICIG called them, and her contacts included openly illicit funding sources. According to multiple local, international and DEA sources, Gloria Torres forged relationships with traffickers such as Juan Alberto Ortíz López, alias “Chamalé,” a powerful drug transporter operating in the San Marcos department along the border with Mexico; and Waldemar Lorenzana Lima, the patriarch of a trafficking family operating on the eastern border with Honduras and El Salvador.
“In the midst of the corrupt network created by Gloria Torres, what is clear is the connection of a drug trafficking organization to the highest levels of a political party, probably facilitated by the [political] contributions,” the CICIG wrote.
Both Chamalé and Lorenzana worked more closely with the Zetas’ rivals, the Sinaloa Cartel, which, according to a source who helped fund the UNE campaign, also sent an emissary from Honduras to contribute to UNE’s campaign. That emissary came from the Gastélum Serrano family, the Sinaloa Cartel’s top representatives in Central America, the source said.
According to a DEA source who tracked the family for years, César Gastélum Serrano, the nominal leader of the group, operated from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula for at least a decade before he was arrested in Mexico in April 2015. But the campaign source said it was another member of the family who was reportedly the intermediary in the deal with UNE.
UNE’s answer to these problems was to turn to illicit sources.
Solórzano was the third major “collector,” the CICIG said in its report. And in Solórzano’s area of Alta Verapaz, money allegedly came from Turcios, the report said. The report does not mention the Zetas, but according to its own statement via Radio La Buena in Cobán, the criminal group channeled this money through Solórzano. In total, the Zetas claimed they moved a little more than 200 million quetzals (just over $11 million at the time) to UNE.
InSight Crime contacted numerous current and former UNE officials to try to corroborate the Zetas’ account. Two former UNE members, as well as one who worked with Solórzano on fund-raising activities for the party but wished to remain anonymous for legal and security reasons, said the party received the money, although neither of them says they saw when it was exchanged. Two former government investigators, as well as a foreign counternarcotics agent, also said this was their understanding of what had happened, but neither of them said they had heard a first-hand account of this exchange.
Although the CICIG does not mention them in its report, there were other major conduits for illicit funding. Guatemalan investigators and the source inside the campaign said that a former military officer named Carlos Quintanilla channeled money from Gordo Paredes and Juan José ”Juancho” León Ardón, then the country’s foremost drug trafficker. And Manuel Baldizón, a UNE congressman who would later break away to form his own party, allegedly secured dubious funding as well.
Investigators at various units of the Attorney General’s Office probing other cases of illicit campaign finances told InSight Crime there is, as of yet, no investigation into the 2007 UNE presidential campaign. This is, in part, due to the fact that there was no specific law against illicit campaign financing until 2010.
(The lack of investigations into UNE have irked political rivals and others who see it as a conspiracy to avoid going after leftist politicians. In multiple interviews, both representatives from the Attorney General’s Office and from the CICIG denied they had any political agenda with regards to their selection of cases.)
But the multiple sources contacted for this story, including the one who provided a portion of the money and helped collect portions from other illicit actors, says US dollars arrived in boxes from these various sources. The money was then transferred to Guatemala City, where it was swapped for quetzals at downtown currency exchanges before making its way into UNE coffers.
The source who participated in the scheme said that the quid pro quo was clear from their end: first, steer government contracts towards the traffickers’ companies; second, steer police, military, the DEA and prosecutors away from the drug business. From the perspective of the drug traffickers, by accepting the money, UNE agreed to these terms, the source said.
On November 4, 2007, Colom beat Pérez Molina by four points, making him the first president to ever win the general election without winning Guatemala City. UNE also won more congressional seats than any other party and formed a coalition that gave it control over the legislature. It was the pinnacle of the party’s power.
Zetas Visit the Presidential Palace
After Colom won, his backers went to the presidential palace to collect on their investments. Some of them got significant payback. Turcios’ companies, for example, helped reconstruct or build dozens of schools and other government infrastructure, such as highways and roads. As the CICIG noted, Turcios’ daughter also got a token job at PRODEVER, the local government development arm in Alta Verapaz. Other trafficking families also got government contracts, including Chamalé, according to the CICIG, which added that this was a typical quid pro quo for campaign contributions.
For the first two and a half years, there was also little or no indication of a crackdown on drug trafficking. There was, for instance, only one major arrest of a Zetas’ operative during this time period, and two people who participated in the counternarcotics operations that led to the arrest told InSight Crime it happened because of DEA intercepts of telephone calls and text messages, not because of proactive government policy to tackle drug trafficking.
However, not everyone thought Colom was beholden to drug traffickers.
“He just underestimated the size of the problem completely,” a former UNE security official told InSight Crime referring to then-President Colom’s understanding of the drug traffickers’ power.
Former US Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen McFarland agreed. McFarland arrived in Guatemala in August 2008 and would stay for nearly the duration of Colom’s tenure. He said that he had a good relationship with the then-president.
“When we asked for cooperation we got it,” McFarland said. “And some of that cooperation required top-level approval from Colom.”
But Colom’s seemingly disinterested approach troubled officials early in his administration. The arrested Zetas leader was named Daniel Pérez Rojas, alias “Cachetes.” (See photo below.) The arrest, which happened on April 8, 2008, startled the agents. Cachetes was an alleged Zetas’ founder. His presence meant the criminal importance of Guatemala was rising and that the group was operating in the capital city.
To be sure, the Zetas were in the process of splitting from their progenitors, the Gulf Cartel, and establishing a beachhead in Guatemala had become a priority. Cobán had become its headquarters. The Mexico-based criminal organization had taken over businesses, terrorized and extorted farmers, kidnapped prominent residents, and pushed authorities into a proverbial and literal corner: At one point, the Zetas beat and left six policemen hogtied and naked along the side of the road.
Two weeks before Cachetes arrest, on March 25, 2008, the Zetas had called a meeting with Juancho León to talk about León’s propensity to steal their merchandise and kill their operatives. León agreed to the meeting, but the Zetas ambushed and killed him. Eight others also died in a massacre that upended the Guatemalan underworld and started the string of events that led to Cachetes arrest, the detection of numerous Zetas’ safe houses and the startling discovery of a diary that chronicled an important high-level, government appointment.
The trail that got them to that diary started with the arrest of several Zetas operatives. Investigators confiscated fake identification cards from the operatives, which led them to a municipality where the Zetas obtained the false documents. Authorities found that the local administrator had put recent photos of close to two dozen Zetas operatives in their municipal identification logbook. Cachetes, for instance, was passing himself off as Juan González Díaz.
Another person in the logbook was Miguel Ángel Treviño, alias “Z40,” the group’s second-in-command. He had an identification document that said his name was David Estrada Corado. (See photo below.) Z40, investigators would learn later, was entering the country to receive treatment at a weight-loss clinic in the city. The process went on long enough for Z40 to rent an apartment opposite the clinic for several months.
The identification documents led authorities to phones, which they began to wiretap. This led them to the arrest of Cachetes and to safe houses, which they raided. Inside one of these houses, investigators found 17 suits purchased from the local Men’s Factory that they had worn in the pictures used for their fake documents.
They also found the diary. The Zetas, who were meticulous bookkeepers, wrote down who they met with and where. One of these annotations showed that shortly after Colom’s inauguration, the Zetas’ representatives had allegedly met with a presidential advisor in the presidential palace in the first months of Colom’s government.
The two investigators who worked on the case could not confirm to InSight Crime who met with the Zetas’ delegation in the palace that day. But they were sure that it did not happen without the knowledge of the Zetas’ intermediary, Obdulio Solórzano.
Solórzano wore his ambition on his sleeve. After Colom won, he was named director of FONAPAZ, the same institution the president had used as a launching pad to the presidency. Solórzano immediately beefed up his own political capital allegedly using the fund’s financial capital.
Solórzano traveled the country, shaking hands and making deals with government money. He wined and dined his would-be allies, including Gloria Torres, whom he allegedly took to one of his estates and treated to a special breakfast he had delivered via helicopter. He also allegedly set up kickback schemes to benefit his political allies and UNE financiers.
“FONAPAZ was basically a [money] laundering service,” one former UNE official told InSight Crime.
The CICIG report and another report by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars echoed this finding.
Under Solórzano’s watch, FONAPAZ misappropriated at least 1.4 billion quetzals ($175 million), the Wilson Center said, which added that the agency was used by organized crime.
“An adviser to the Colom administration said that Solórzano was using FONAPAZ to launder drug trafficking money, by hiring construction companies with links to organized crime to build infrastructure projects for municipalities in northeastern Guatemala,” the Wilson Center report reads.
Some of these FONAPAZ contracts went to Turcios, the CICIG said in its report. In all, 440 million quetzals ($55 million) in FONAPAZ contracts had to be rescinded, the Woodrow Wilson Center report said. One report in elPeriódico said that 103 contracts were being reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office.
Under Solórzano’s watch, FONAPAZ misappropriated at least $175 million.
Solórzano’s use of the FONAPAZ to bolster his political standing was the formula that Colom had used to win the presidency, something that was not lost on Solórzano’s rivals, in particular, first lady Sandra Torres. Torres was an ambitious political operative in her own right and would soon earn the dubious distinction of being the “most abrasive” person in the Colom presidential palace, according to a 2009 US Embassy cable written by then-Ambassador Stephen McFarland.
“We believe the First Lady is by far the best senior manager in government (albeit not a transparent one),” McFarland wrote.
Torres allied with Gustavo Alejos, by then Colom’s chief of staff. Between them, they tried to steer the administration through their control of the president, who is known as an affable if not a particularly strong character.
What this meant in practice was building a virtual wall around the president, controlling access to him and developing his list of priorities. When they could not control that access, Torres and Alejos simply removed the person from the equation. In September 2008, for instance, the Colom administration announced the firing of Carlos Quintanilla, who had become the head of Guatemala’s Secret Service after the elections, for allegedly bugging Colom’s office and residence.
Quintanilla went on the run and was prosecuted, but the case eventually fell apart, and one former prosecutor told InSight Crime that the case was fake, a ruse to get Quintanilla away from the president. (Quintanilla was later connected to drug trafficking by the CICIG, but never charged. In 2017, he was arrested on charges of blackmail, and his case is pending. He did not respond to InSight Crime’s efforts to contact him.)
Solórzano was also frozen out, so even while his stock rose on the outside of the palace, he had no access to the president himself. What’s more, Torres was already eyeballing her own presidential bid. Although she didn’t have FONAPAZ, she was the head of several important, multimillion-dollar social and economic programs for poor, rural voters who formed UNE’s base.
She also had her sister, Gloria, who was the conduit to the local power structures that had helped elect Colom. As a high-level UNE official, Gloria Torres could counter Solórzano’s growing power within the party with her own deal-making on the municipal level. The quid pro quo was essentially the same: monetary and political support in return for government contracts.
By early 2009, Solórzano’s political dreams inside UNE were unraveling at a rapid pace. He had no contact with Colom, and his enemies inside the party were beginning to leak information about FONAPAZ’s misdeeds and his dubious connections to drug traffickers like Turcios, who was now officially on the government’s and the DEA’s radar.
In June, Solórzano was fired from FONAPAZ, but his ambition did not wane. He had financial backers. He had political allies. He had experience. Now he needed a political party. Following his ignominious departure from FONAPAZ, Solórzano started making overtures to a rival party, according to a source who attended at least one meeting with him. A separate source who worked with UNE said Solórzano also made contact with another party as well.
Solórzano, meanwhile, never gave up hope that he could meet with Colom and talk him into going with him to another party, two people who had conversations with him at that time told InSight Crime. By then, Colom was in a fight of his own, increasingly sidelined by the first lady and Gustavo Alejos, who were also fighting among themselves. (Alejos would later be charged for corruption and go on the run. More recently, he was put on a US Congressional “blacklist.” Colom and Torres would later divorce, and the two have been largely estranged since.) Solórzano considered the president a friend and a possible ally, he told his associates. They told him to be careful, that he was a marked man. But Solórzano brushed their concerns aside.
On July 7, 2010, Solórzano’s armored car was hit from behind. It was a minor accident but had enough damage that the next day, Solórzano dropped the vehicle at the garage and picked up new Range Rover that was not armored while his car got serviced.
That night, he left the office and dropped off his secretary. Then he and his bodyguards made their way down Boulevard Liberación. Although it is a thoroughfare in Guatemala City near the airport, there are spots where there are few security cameras. It was at one of these spots, as he made the turn around the Guatemala Obelisk, that men armed with automatic weapons ambushed him and riddled his car with bullets, killing Solórzano and one of his bodyguards.
When I met with Colom in 2015, he was living in a basement apartment in a posh area of Guatemala City. The former president — who is currently facing charges of corruption in a case brought by the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG — is tall and rail thin. He doesn’t wear his clothes as much as they are draped on him.
I had gone to speak to him about another story and sprung some questions about illicit campaign financing for his presidential bid in 2007. To his credit, Colom did not blanch. I reached out again for this story specifically, but he did not respond to a detailed questionnaire. It’s too bad because, in our earlier interview, he did have some strange explanations for his actions, especially regarding Solórzano.
To begin with, the former president denied knowing about any drug trade-related contributions to his campaign.
“That money never arrived,” he said of the Zetas’ supposed multimillion-dollar pledge they claimed to have made via the Radio La Buena announcement. “Me, with $11 million, I would have won in the first round,” he laughed about his 2007 election.
(For her part, Sandra Torres also distanced herself from campaign financing when Nómada asked her about it in 2015, without addressing the veracity of claims about contributions from illicit sources. “I was focused on the social side,” she said. “I was not in that [campaign financing] side.”)
The most common rumor Colom said he’d beaten back was that Juancho León had contributed to his campaign. In fact, Colom said the León family tried to kill him in July 2008, because Colom had supposedly “betrayed” Juancho León by opening the door to the Zetas. The attackers, he said, mistook his advance team for him.
“Two of our lead cars were ambushed,” he explained. “They found checks from Juancho León’s brother in the assassins’ vehicles.”
However, Colom could not remember if anyone died or was injured in the attack. There is also no public record of the ambush, and a half-dozen former security officials from that time period did not recall any such event when I asked about it later.
Me, with $11 million, I would have won in the first round.
When I questioned the former president about Solórzano, the conversation got even stranger. Colom said that Turcios gave money to Solórzano, but the former president insisted it was for joint business deals the two were hatching concerning “cattle,” not campaign financing.
He added that early in his presidency, the Interior Ministry gave him a presentation on the drug trafficking groups in the country, putting Turcios at the top.
“I told Obdulio to break relations with Turcios,” he said to me. “But he said, ‘No, Mr. President. He is not a drug trafficker. He is a good person.’”
When I pressed him as to why Solórzano lasted so long as the head of FONAPAZ, Colom said that early in his administration, he realized that Solórzano was dirty when, following a presidential event in the border state of Chiquimula, Solórzano left in a helicopter for his farm.
“He says, ‘I want to go to my finca in Alta Verapaz,’” Colom told me.
Colom said that the luxurious exit jolted him, and when Solórzano returned from that trip, he fired him. But “half an hour later,” Colom said, then-US Ambassador McFarland called him and told him not to get rid of Solórzano. The implication was that Solórzano was the subject of an investigation. Months later, Colom said, after getting McFarland’s approval, he fired Solórzano.
McFarland, however, denied that he ever asked Colom not to fire someone he suspected of links to narcotics traffickers.
“This was not my approach towards narcotics trafficking, corruption, nor to Colom,” McFarland told InSight Crime.
When I asked Colom why Solórzano was killed, Colom blamed it on his relationship with Turcios. “Turcios gave money to Solórzano,” he said, “and that is why Solórzano got killed.”
Colom has made similar, albeit vaguer, references to other journalists about Solórzano. In an interview with the Wilson Center, Colom told Julie López that the assassination of Solórzano was “heavy,” in reference to the way in which he was killed.
“When the river is noisy, it’s because it’s carrying stones,” he told her, using an old Guatemalan refrain to allude to Solórzano’s dark connections and subsequent distancing from the administration.
War Against Narcos
If Colom wondered about the murder of his longtime colleague and fundraiser, he did little to push the Attorney General’s Office to investigate. People who worked for the Attorney General’s Office during Colom’s administration had a hard time even placing the former UNE congressman or remembering his high-profile assassination in the middle of the capital city. And they said there was no push from the presidency to investigate it.
Still, in the months that followed Solórzano’s murder, the government and the DEA ramped up their efforts to corral and arrest drug traffickers. They first set their sights on places like Cobán. There, UNE financiers like Turcios already knew the tide was turning against them. And after his sources told him a large contingent was headed his way, Turcios fled to Petén in a helicopter. Then he crossed into Belize by land where he was arrested and sent to the United States to face drug trafficking charges.
The government also called for a state of siege in Alta Verapaz that led to the Zetas’ bold declarations about campaign financing and Solórzano’s death. (It would do another state of siege in the department of Petén.)
In the months that followed, the Zetas fulfilled their promise to wreak havoc. In May 2011, they went on a weeklong rampage, killing the brother of Juancho León in Petén as well as massacring 28 farmhands. Days later, they murdered a prosecutor in Cobán and left parts of his chopped-up body in front of three government offices.
But with the election pact long since broken, Colom reacted strongly.
“I hate drug trafficking,” he told me.
By the end of 2011, over 100 alleged members of the Zetas were in jail, and the criminal group has never recovered its power in Guatemala. Other drug traffickers, such as Chamalé and Lorenzana, were also arrested and extradited.
“The fact that they actually made this happen, reflected well on his people,” McFarland said. “By Guatemalan standards, they made some significant advances.”
Colom’s impressive show of force, the arrests and subsequent extraditions of numerous drug traffickers have given him and his party cover in the debate about suspected narco-contributions to his campaign in 2007. But questions about Solórzano, his role in financing the presidential campaign and his subsequent murder remain unanswered.