Guatemala Ex-Minister Used Police to Escort Cocaine Shipments: US

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Lieutenant Colonel Mauricio López Bonilla, Guatemala’s ex-interior minister and previous head of the country’s police force, issued orders for his subordinate agents to guard cocaine shipments that drug traffickers moved throughout the country, gave advance warning to criminals of police operations aimed at capturing them, and reassigned officials in an attempt to facilitate drug trafficking. In exchange, he received money.

This is according to the US request for López Bonilla’s extradition, which Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office transferred to the Supreme Court on June 26.

“He ordered National Civil Police officials to escort shipments of cocaine and reassigned personnel from said institution at the request of drug trafficking organizations in exchange for monetary compensation,” according to US court documents sent as part of the extradition request to their Guatemalan counterparts that were cited by elPeriódico.

López Bonilla, one of the individuals closest to ex-President Otto Pérez Molina, was detained on June 11, 2016, along with two other ex-ministers on charges of corruption related to a bribery and embezzlement scheme known as “La Cooperacha.” Pérez Molina and ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti had been previously detained for this and other corruption charges. 

In February 2017, a US federal court indicted López Bonilla and Baldetti on drug charges. That same month, the US Department of Justice announced that it would request the extradition of both officials, whom the agency accused of being responsible for “conspiring to introduce five or more kilograms of cocaine” to the United States. Baldetti’s petition was announced in early June.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

An investigation published by InSight Crime in December 2016 revealed possible ties between López Bonilla and Marllory Chacón Rosell, a woman accused of money laundering and drug trafficking whom the US Treasury Department had designated as a drug trafficker in 2012. In exchange for protection, Chacón had allegedly invested in a private security company connected to the former minister. 

The investigation also established possible connections between López Bonilla and Byron Lima, a military man like the former minister, who had once overseen criminal activities planned and executed through the country’s prison system. In July 2016, Lima was murdered in prison. López Bonilla has denied these alleged ties.

Today, following the investigations by the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), the list of legal charges faced by López Bonilla is large. In addition to his alleged ties to drug trafficking groups, among which Guatemalan and US authorities name the Zetas and the Pacific Cartel — a kind of federation between Mexico’s Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels — López Bonilla also faces the corruption charges for which he was arrested in the first place, as well as accusations of misappropriating police funds. 

InSight Crime Analysis

López Bonilla was one of the most powerful individuals during Pérez Molina’s rule. He was also one of US law enforcement agencies’ main connections in Guatemala, believed to be a strong ally in the US-led “war on drugs.” It seems that, in some cases, Washington does not choose its allies well. 

In one of López Bonilla’s first appearances as a defendant in Guatemalan court, his defense lawyer argued, as have other Central American officials and military personnel accused of crimes, that he was an important US ally. Among other documents, the defense lawyer presented letters from Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownfield thanking López Bonilla for his support in the fight against drug traffickers.

This story of misguided Washington support is an oft-repeated one in the Northern Triangle of Central America, particularly under the framework of the so-called “war on drugs” that US President Richard Nixon launched in the 1970s. In Honduras and El Salvador, similar situations to the one in Guatemala have arisen. 

SEE ALSO: Guatemala’s Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

In El Salvador, for example, an ex-police inspector opened investigations of 20 high-level officers, including the general director, for suspected ties with the drug trafficking group the Perrones. Many of these officials were the points of contact for US envoys in the country. These investigations were impeded under orders of ex-President Mauricio Funes’s administration (2009-2014). Funes is also currently accused of corruption. 

In 2012, when López Bonilla was first receiving calls from Marllory Chacón, he was already “the most important US partner in terms of security in Guatemala. The minister controls the police, the prison system, and a budget greater than that of the Guatemalan army,” as InSight Crime previously wrote in its special investigation on the criminal ties of Otto Pérez Molina’s former strongman. 

In a meeting with Central American leaders earlier this month in Miami, US Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly outlined a regional security police that once again places emphasis on cooperation with regional police and military forces in countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Many of these officials have already been accused of having ties to organized crime and drug trafficking similar to those attributed to Mauricio López Bonilla.

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