Authorities in Guatemala have made several arrests and revealed previously-unknown details regarding the slaying of Byron Lima, the one-time “king” of the country’s prisons. The new revelations suggest that there may have been more than one motive for the murder.
Attorney General Thelma Aldana and Iván Velázquez, the head of the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), held a press conference on August 3 to present details of the investigation into the July 2016 killing of former army captain turned prison boss Byron Lima and thirteen other people in the Pavón prison.
The conference followed shortly after news of the capture of several suspects in the case, including Sara Elizabeth Cruz Mansilla, the wife of Marvin Montiel Marín, alias “El Taquero.” Since the start of the investigation into Lima’s murder more than a year ago, officials have maintained that El Taquero ordered Byron Lima killed because the former army captain had disturbed his drug selling business.
Reaffirming this line of investigation, authorities described how Cruz Mansilla and several other captured individuals allegedly introduced the weapons and explosives that would be used for the massacre into the Pavón prison by faking construction material delivery passes and exploiting the lax prison security checks.
“We conclude therefore that between Marvin Montiel Marín and Byron Miguel Lima there existed a conflict to obtain control of … Pavón,” Velázquez stated, noting that tensions between the two inmates went back to 2015 when they were housed in another prison.
During the same conference, Velázquez offered some striking information on the conduct of two of the highest-ranking prison officials at the time, namely the former director of the penitentiary system, Luis Carlos de León Zea, who surrendered himself to authorities on August 3 according to Prensa Libre, and former deputy director for operations, Basilio Hernández Guzmán, one of the individuals arrested.
According to the head of the CICIG, three separate internal reports during April and May 2016 warned the prison officials about the risk that other inmates might attempt to kill Byron Lima. A fourth report by the director of Pavón also cautioned in May 2016 that weapons were available in the prison and asked for resources to fix security breaches.
“Knowing the existence of the real and imminent risk that Byron Lima would suffer an attempt [on his life], given that they did nothing to avoid it, they are responsible as if they had done it. This is what is known as ‘guilt by omission,'” Velázquez said.
One particularly notable and previously-unreported detail about the attack on Lima also emerged during the presentation: Four days before the incident, Hernández Guzmán had lifted the government protection of personal bodyguards that he had granted to Lima soon after his arrival in Pavón. It remains unclear why this decision was made, but this has raised suspicions that the former official may have been more than passively involved in the incident.
InSight Crime Analysis
As InSight Crime chronicled after interviewing Byron Lima himself in prison, the military-style rule he imposed on the institution and his efforts to stop the sale of certain narcotics certainly earned the former army captain a number of enemies behind bars, including El Taquero.
But while the evidence presented seems to support the idea that Montiel Marín and his accomplices were the material authors of Lima’s killing, details such as the lifting of Byron Lima’s extra security protection just days before his murder raises the question of whether there may have been other powerful players who wanted him dead.
“It is possible that those captured for the murder of Byron Lima and 13 other people are nothing more than the intermediate actors of said crimes,” Pedro Trujillo, a Guatemalan journalist and professor, told InSight Crime. But, he added, “given the level of perfection and planning with which it was executed, it would seem that there are intellectual authors of a much higher level and sophistication.”
As InSight Crime previously reported, Lima had made enemies out of powerful political figures, including former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla, who is currently jailed in Guatemala with a US extradition request pending against him for unrelated drug trafficking charges. This has contributed to suspicions that the ex-minister may have played a role in the killing.
“It’s hard to believe that someone like Lima, with powerful enemies including politicians, drug traffickers and figures from organized crime, would have been murdered by an inmate serving alongside him for an issue of power struggle within the prison,” Trujillo said.
However, Trujillo warned that Guatemala’s history suggests that despite the capture of some of the alleged “material authors” of the crime (those who actually carried it out), the “intellectual authors” (those who planned and ordered the murder) may still escape justice.
“It is possible that [the case] of the assassination of the former captain never goes so far as judging the upper echelons that planned it,” he said.