Authorities in Guatemala have accused several prison guards of conspiring with alleged gang members to murder a prison director, a reminder of how widespread corruption in the penitentiary system fuels violence and criminal control.
On December 4, Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of four individuals accused of the April 2017 murder of José María Pérez Corado, the former director of the “El Infiernito” maximum security prison.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, members of the Barrio 18 gang organized and ordered Pérez Corado’s killing because he refused to provide privileges — presumably visitation rights or access to cell phones — to imprisoned gang members.
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Among those accused are alleged Barrio 18 member Ernesto Alonzo Luarca Quezada, alias “Slapy,” and three guards at the prison. The charges against those implicated include murder, conspiracy to commit murder and illicit association.
Another former director of “El Infiernito,” Amílcar Corado González, was murdered in 2012, reportedly on the orders of jailed gang members.
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Corruption is a longstanding problem in Guatemala’s prison system, and it has been on stark display this year.
For instance, videos surfaced in May purporting to show Nicolás García, then the director of the national penitentiary system, negotiating with incarcerated Barrio 18 members at another maximum security facility. In one of the videos, gang leader Rudy Francisco Alfaro, alias “El Smurf,” appears to threaten García that bloodshed would result from his February transfer to “El Infiernito.” Two months after that transfer, Pérez Corado was murdered.
García was fired from the top job in the national prison system in May following the escape of one of the country’s highest-profile inmates, Marixa Ethelinda Lemus Pérez, alias “La Patrona.” Authorities said the crime boss broke out with help from staff at the facility. (She was recaptured in neighboring El Salvador before the end of the month.)
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Overcrowding and a lack of resources are two key drivers of corruption in Guatemala’s prison system.
When authorities find themselves unable to assert control in overflowing facilities, they often pass the job of establishing order to criminal groups. And complaints about poor working conditions and low pay are common, incentivizing the acceptance of bribes by prison officials.
Chronic funding shortages have hampered efforts to improve not only the prison system, but also other aspects of Guatemala’s law enforcement and justice systems. Prensa Libre recently reported that Guatemala’s general budget for 2018 has not yet been approved, halting the construction of new prisons and reducing the resources available for police and prosecutors.