HomeGuatemalaCIACS
GUATEMALA

CIACS

ARMS TRAFFICKING / LATEST UPDATE 2017-03-09 22:38:30 EN

Guatemala's 40-year civil war laid the groundwork for many criminal organizations, including several that spawned from state intelligence and military services. These organizations, collectively known as Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad - CIACS), are still operational, assisting in drug trafficking and illegal adoptions, the making of false passports and contraband. They include several ex-generals and former high-ranking intelligence officers, and their connections to the private side security services in Guatemala, plus their understanding of how to penetrate and corrupt the government make them useful partners and potent individual actors in the underworld.

History

The origins of the Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad - CIACS) are in Guatemala's civil conflict. What began as a fight for land and labor rights in the 1950s became a full-scale civil war in the 1960s. Several guerrilla groups emerged, both urban and rural, some of which included former military officers. Amidst the turmoil, the Guatemalan army seized power and held it until the mid-1980s. Along the way they created an elaborate and somewhat sophisticated intelligence apparatus, the most important part of which was the Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP).

CIACS Factbox

Founded
1970s

Membership
Unknown

Leadership
Decentralized

Criminal Activities
Drug trafficking, drug sales, arms dealing, falsifying documents, adoption rings, contraband

Guatemala Factbox

Homicide Rate

Criminal Activities

Drug transit, human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, prostitution rings

Principal criminal groups

MS13, Barrio 18, CIACS, Lorenzanas, Mendozas, Leones

The government set up the EMP in the mid-1970s to protect the president and his family. But with time, it evolved into an intelligence gathering service. Staffed by military personnel, most of whom had worked in the military's most feared intelligence services, it soon turned its attention to opposition forces and political movements who threatened its control over the government and its ability to cover up its past war crimes. The information was placed in files, or "archivos," giving the EMP its moniker: "los archivos."

During the 1980s, as the country shifted from military to civilian rule, the EMP worked to keep opposition in check and ensure that past abuses during the civil war went unpunished. It did this by systematically tracking, harrassing, and in some cases arresting human rights workers, union members and student activists, among others. Some faced torture. Others were simply executed or disappeared. One military intelligence document, obtained from Guatemala's government archives by the National Security Archives, listed 183 Guatemalans that the EMP disappeared between 1983 and 1985. The EMP was also responsible for the 1990 murder of the anthropologist Myrna Mack in 1990. And its personnel were behind the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, who had led an investigation into war crimes during the country's civil conflict.

The EMP was abolished in 2003, but it was at the heart of what many called the "hidden powers," or CIACS, that continued to have a strong hand in running the Guatemalan government for years thereafter. Military intelligence services such as the G-2 and the D-2 were also part of these powers. They drew from their past connections to become a type of parallel government. Some of them took on names like the Cofradia or La Montaña and battled for control with each other over the lucrative businesses they managed. These businesses included providing intelligence and weapons, hitmen services and fake passports to criminal groups. They were facilitators more than operators, and their vast knowledge of the state and political connections within it, made them invaluable to other underworld operators and political parties alike. Some eventually formed their own political movements. A former EMP commander, Otto Perez Molina, is now the Guatemala's president.

In 2007, the government opened the door for the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has been working to dismantle the CIACS. Its case against former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo is illustrative of the CICIG's mixed results. According to the US indictment against the ex-president, retired General Francisco Ortega Menaldo orchestrated at least part of the pillaging of state resources that led to the arrest of the former president and his defense minister.

The US pulled Ortega's visa in 2002, for his alleged contacts with drug trafficking organizations. He is also thought to have ties to an organization that sells Guatemalan passports to foreigners. However, Guatemalan authorities have never indicted Ortega, and Ortega has consistently denied any wrongdoing or connections to these "hidden powers." Portillo and two of Ortega's close associates, however, spent time in jail for embezzlement, and Portillo was extradited to the US where he was convicted of money laundering charges. After spending a year and a half in US prison, Portillo returned to Guatemala in February 2015.

Given his background in the EMP, many expected President Perez Molina not to renew the CICIG's mandate on coming to power. However, after assuming the presidency, Perez extended CICIG's mandate for a further two years until September 2015. In April 2015, after much debate and political maneuvering -- and amidst a crisis in his administration due to a customs fraud scandal -- Perez renewed CICIG's mandate for another two years. 

Leadership

Membership in the CIACS included active and ex-military officers, special forces operatives, and high-level government officials; many of whom operated in intelligence branches such as the EMP, the G-2 or the D-2. The "Cofradia" or "The Brotherhood," was composed of an elite group of Guatemalan intelligence officers.

Geography

The CIACS operates throughout Guatemala, but its core groups are centered in the Guatemala City, near the halls of government power.

Allies and Enemies

Given the status of their members, the CIACS enjoyed wide support among the Guatemalan government, with considerable access to the president and other leaders.

Prospects

The Portillo case and the activities of the CICIG notwithstanding, reducing the activities of organized crime in Guatemala to the CIACS may be simplistic and outdated. The CIACS have blended with various criminal enterprises, formed their own or have tried to become legitimate political and economic actors. While their legacy is strong -- witness the customs fraud scandal -- the CIACS themselves are symbols of how power works in Guatemala: via a mafia-like control over the levers of government bureaucracy. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 1 NOV 2010

Five men, two of them ex-military, carrying explosives, weapons, flak jackets and T-shirts with the letters "MFG" were arrested in…

GUATEMALA / 29 JAN 2013

A Guatemalan court ruled that a farm seized from an alleged drug trafficker should go to the state, the first…

GUATEMALA / 14 FEB 2013

The Guatemalan government has opened investigations into 13 of the 18 judges accused of corruption by UN-backed judicial body CICIG,…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.