‘Intelligence Report’ Details Role of Guatemala Police in Drug Trade

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A report allegedly produced for US anti-drug and intelligence agencies has detailed how corrupt factions of Guatemala’s police — including high-level officers — dedicate themselves to stealing and reselling drug shipments, among other illicit activities. 

The report, reprinted in elPeriodico, called these corrupt police the “Charola Cartel” (“charola” being a reference to police insignia), and said they emerged after drug traffickers began paying Guatemalan police officers to protect their drug shipments in the 1990s. Some officers allegedly began stealing these shipments (a practice known as a “tumbe”) and selling them to traffickers based along the Guatemala-Mexico frontier.

elPeriodico did not specify how it obtained the intelligence report or identify the authors or date of completion, but stated that the version of the report was “unedited.” 

The report stated that there were two factions within the Charola Cartel, both led by former deputy police directors: Henry Ruben Lopez Gomez (who held the position from April 2007 to September 2008), and Rember Larios Tobar (who succeeded Lopez, and had the job until June 2009). 

According to the report, the two were formerly rivals, but began working together circa 2008. Lopez controlled the local police chiefs who participated in their scheme, while Larios ensured that the police internal affairs unit never investigated them. 

The report described how Larios personally participated in various “tumbes,” stealing an 800 kilo cocaine shipment in 2009 and selling it to the owner of a bus company who worked for notorious Guatemalan drug trafficker Juan Ortiz Lopez, alias “Juan Chamale.” Larios and other police officers also stole several bags of cash belonging to Mexico’s Zetas, who retaliated by attacking police patrols across Guatemala, the report stated.  

The report states that the Charola Cartel is estimated to have more than 1,000 active members. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The lack of context on who authored this report, or when, makes it impossible to say why it was written. Nevertheless, as it stands, the report offers an eye-opening look at the alleged extent of police involvement in Guatemala’s drug trade.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

What is perhaps most troubling is the implication that this wasn’t a case of low-level officers acting independently, but was widespread and involved the top leadership. The so-called “Charola Cartel” seems akin to Venezuela’s Cartel of the Suns, a drug trafficking network made up of the security forces, particulary the military and National Guard.

The report also makes reference to the lack of serious effort to clean up the police force. It notes that the police anti-narcotics unit has undergone several rehauls and changed its name multiple times since the early 2000s, but kept the same employees in place. This lack of proper vetting may not have been limited to the Guatelaman side: a 2008 US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks stated that “Embassy vetting revealed no significant derogatory information” about Rember Larios, who had just been appointed deputy police director at the time.  

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