The indictment of a senior Guatemalan government official concerning his alleged participation in police death squads has reopened deep questions about President Jimmy Morales' security cabinet.
On October 29, the Attorney General’s Office of Guatemala accused Kamilo Rivera, the deputy minister of the interior and the president’s main connection to the National Civil Police (PNC), of forming death squads within the Guatemalan state over a decade ago. Rivera has now gone missing.
This accusation comes as part of a case by the Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG). The institutions accuse eight officials active during the management of former president Óscar Berger of being part of a death squad that committed at least seven extrajudicial executions. The officials include a former minister of the interior, Carlos Vielman; the then director of the PNC, Erwin Sperisen; and Víctor Hugo Soto Diéguez, the former head of police investigations.
“This parallel body operated within … the Interior [Ministry] from 2004 to 2007, constituting an illegal body and clandestine security apparatus (cuerpo ilegal y aparato clandestino de seguridad – CIACS) in the most classic sense. This CIACS wielded real power and had the approval of the highest public security officials to operate with impunity every time it carried out an extrajudicial execution,” reads part of the indictment.
The defendants "used an entire state infrastructure" to carry out the killings, the Attorney’s General Office said.
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According to investigators, this group began operating in 2005 after the escape of 19 prisoners from a Guatemalan maximum security prison known as El Infiernito. In response, Soto Diéguez, with the authorization of Vielmann and Sperisen, started the so-called Gavilán Plan, which offered rewards in exchange for information about the inmates' whereabouts. The Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG state that the Gavilán Plan became a facade for extrajudicial killings.
The investigators also allege that the police located the escapees, as well as others, before taking them to remote places and executing them. They then altered the crime scenes to make them seem as though the criminals had confronted the PNC agents.
The extermination group comprised two units, according to the document. One was led by Víctor Rivera, alias "Zacarías", a shady Venezuelan investigator who fled El Salvador at the beginning of the last decade after being involved in similar cases. He ended up as an adviser to the Guatemalan police and was assassinated in 2008. Kamilo Rivera, the deputy minister of the interior, was allegedly a part of this unit.
Investigations at the time implicated Víctor Rivera and Víctor Hugo Soto Diéguez in the execution of four police officers on February 25, 2007, in El Boquerón prison. Two days earlier, the murdered policemen, supposedly members of the extermination group led by Zacarías, had killed three Salvadoran deputies from the Central American Parliament (Parlacen).
The so-called Parlacen Case was one of the reasons for the creation of the CICIG in Guatemala.
InSight Crime Analysis
The investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG not only confirms long-held suspicions about the existence of death squads within Guatemalan public forces, but casts additional doubt on the credibility of the Morales government, which has been embroiled in a political war with both entities for over a year.
Kamilo Rivera, the deputy minister of the interior, was appointed to his post in January this year, along with Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart. The pair replaced Francisco Rivas who had acted in close collaboration with the CICIG investigations while minister.
The changes occurred after President Morales tried to legally get rid of Iván Velásquez, the chief magistrate of the CICIG. The body has been investigating the president since 2017, as well as certain family members and collaborators, for alleged acts of corruption.
At the end of January 2018, an official from the Attorney General’s Office of Guatemala told InSight Crime that one of the first orders given by Rivera to the PNC was that he had to personally approve all petitions made to the Special Prosecutor against Impunity (Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad - FECI), who is responsible for investigating high profile corruption cases, as well as to the CICIG. According to the official, this hindered the investigations.
In September, Rivera also authorized the use of armored vehicles on the streets of Guatemala, on the day that Morales announced that he would not renew the CICIG’s mandate. The same month, Rivera also endorsed registering any citizens demonstrating in favor of the international commission and against the president.
Several journalistic investigations published last month revealed that the PNC, with the support of Rivera and Degenhart, had used armored vehicles for political purposes.
With this new case, the CICIG opens yet another investigation into members of the Morales administration despite the president's efforts to end the fight against corruption.