Arrest of Director of Prisons Helps Take Down Extortion Ring

September 10, 2014

by Nic Wirtz

Guatemala’s Director of Prisons, Edgar Camargo, was arrested on Wednesday, September 3, helping to bring down an alleged extortion group that raked in millions of dollars, property and luxury cars.

Also charged were the former deputy director of prisons, Edy Fischer, and Byron Lima Oliva, the purported mastermind of the operation, who was serving time at Pavoncito prison for his role in the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi.

More than 800 policemen descended on Pavoncito last Wednesday, in one of 15 coordinated nationwide prison raids.  Lima Oliva was transferred to Brigada Militar Mariscal Zavala, a maximum security military prison. Camargo later joined him there, after receiving treatment for hypertension at a private hospital in Guatemala City.

Camargo was named director of prisons in February 2013, after the dismissal of José Luis González Pérez.  González Pérez left office after Lima Oliva was found in a convoy of cars last year, celebrating with various jail officials and women after being allowed out for dental treatment.

Appearing in front of Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez, a judge in Guatemala’s Corte de Mayor Riesgo (High Risk Court), Camargo appeared unconcerned about the allegations.  "He who owes nothing fears nothing," he said.

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Tags: Guatemala, CICIG, Byron Lima Oliva

Guatemalan Court Rules on Child Abduction for Adoption Case

September 7, 2011

by Karen Smith Rotabi

Loyda Rodriguez finally received a long-awaited Guatemalan court order on July 29, 2011, which found her daughter’s intercountry adoption to the U.S. to be illegal. The court order gives a 60-day window for return of the child.

In the ruling, the courts determined that the adoption was processed with fraudulent paperwork (including an illegal passport) and require repatriation of the young girl, now a U.S. citizen. This comes after five years of searching for the child, engaging high-profile human rights defenders and staging hunger protests to demand justice. Still, her daughter’s return home remains up in the air. 

The ruling is a watershed moment for Rodriguez and at least two other women seeking to have their daughters returned from the United States. All three of these children now live with U.S. families after coming to the country through what initially appeared to be legitimate adoptions—any initial wrongdoing by the families is not clear. But when all three U.S. families were informed that the adoptions were a result of alleged abductions, the children were not returned to Guatemala. The U.S. families remained silent and may have even worked to block concerted efforts for DNA testing and desperate pleas from the mothers for justice.

And with this recent court ruling, the U.S. Department of State remains silent while deferring all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Will DOJ require the foreign court order to be enforced? That is unlikely given DOJ’s decision to decline formal requests from the Government of Guatemala for DNA tests in each of the three cases. But there is a glimmer of hope. At the end of last month, Senator Mary Landrieu (LA) visited Guatemala and met with the mothers; hopefully Senator Landrieu will attempt to influence U.S. legal collaboration.

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Tags: Guatemala, CICIG

CICIG’s Future in Guatemala

April 28, 2010

by Kate Prengel

It's not often that people come to the United Nations to praise its achievements. Accusations and recriminations are far more common around here. That's why one press conference last week left many journalists befuddled: a delegation of prominent Guatemalans came all the way to UN headquarters to praise the international body's work, and to urge it to stay in the country past the end of the mandate next year.

Specifically, they were discussing the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión International Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, or CICIG).

“The role of CICIG is a light,” said Rigoberta Menchu, nobel laureate and activist.

And indeed, CICIG has plenty to be proud of. Since it started its work just two years ago, the organization has managed to fire thousands of corrupt policemen, as well as one attorney general, 10 chief prosecutors and three supreme court justices. CICIG has also tried and convicted some 130 Guatemalan criminals, including a former president and a former foreign minister.

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Tags: Guatemala, United Nations, CICIG, Eduardo Stein, Rigoberta Menchu

Colom's Message to the UN

February 25, 2010

by Kate Prengel

The Guatemalan president has had a trying year. His country remains one of the murder capitals of Latin America, with an estimated 16 people killed every day. His national police are overstretched and often corrupt. And in May, he himself was (falsely) accused of murdering a prominent Guatemalan lawyer, in a crisis that came close to overturning his government.

Yet to hear President Álvaro Colom speak, you would think it had been smooth sailing all the way.

Colom, a gentle and reed-thin man in a sweater-vest, told reporters at the UN last week that “as president, I can express my satisfaction” with Guatemala’s fight against corruption in the government and the police force.

“I think we’re moving forward,” he added. “I wish it were faster, but I think it is moving forward.”

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Tags: UN, Álvaro Colom, CICIG

Central America’s Rule of Law: Guatemala Captures Portillo But Honduras Rewards Micheletti

January 27, 2010

by Daniel Altschuler

For decades, impunity has reined in Central America. Dictatorial rule, coups, murder, and genocide have, for the most part, gone unpunished. This month, however, events in Guatemala have suggested a potential turning of the tide. In the last three weeks, Guatemalan authorities have solved the potentially destabilizing Rosenberg case and arrested ex-President Alfonso Portillo for money laundering $70 million when he was in power. Meanwhile, in Honduras, the rule of law appears as in jeopardy as ever, as the Congress has rewarded de facto President Roberto Micheletti and pledged amnesty for all those involved in ousting President Manuel Zelaya. When it comes to the rule of law, Honduras lags as far behind as ever.

Since the Peace Accords brought Guatemala’s 36-year civil war to an end in 1996, Guatemalan activists and international observers have demanded justice for the state-sponsored genocide in the 1980s. For the most part, however—as in most of Latin America—justice has not come. Moreover, since the late 1990s, crime has spiraled out of control, perceptions of corruption are high, and the legal system has proved incapable of apprehending and prosecuting both common criminals and thieving politicians. Pervasive impunity partially explains the horrific practice of lynchings that plagues Guatemala. But the failing of the rule of law in the region also contributes to Guatemalans’ disenchantment with democracy (desencanto democrático).

Not only have Guatemalan voters lost faith in democratic government’s ability to bring economic development and alleviate massive poverty, but vast swaths of the citizenry have come to believe that the laws simply do not apply to the powerful. As the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) has shown, perceptions of corruption and insecurity negatively affect democratic values in Guatemala. Compared with other Latin American countries, it is unsurprising that Guatemala ranks low in popular preference for democracy as a form of government.

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Tags: Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, Manuel Zelaya, Roberto Micheletti, Álvaro Colom, Porfirio Lobo, Alfonso Portillo, Rule of Law, Impunity, CICIG, MINUGUA, Amnesty, Rodrigo Rosenberg