HomeNewsAnalysisDefining a Mafia State: The Case of Guatemala
ANALYSIS

Defining a Mafia State: The Case of Guatemala

ELITES AND CRIME / 3 MAR 2017 BY STEVEN DUDLEY EN

On March 2, InSight Crime held a Facebook Live session to discuss current events related to organized crime in Latin America. Our main topic was the creation of a mafia state in Guatemala, and the recent US indictment against former top Guatemalan officials on drug charges. This is a transcript of the introduction to our conversation on the topic. 

The diagram below was made by the US Treasury Department in 2012. It depicts a money laundering organization in Guatemala.

The person you see at the top of this pyramid is a Guatemalan national named Marllory Chacón Rossell. For a long time, she described herself as a businesswoman. She was, in reality, a tremendous fixer for the underworld, connecting drug traffickers, money launderers and politicians who needed one another for various reasons.

One of her main connections was another person on this chart: Hayron Eduardo Borrayo Lasmibat, alias "El Oso," the Bear. Borrayo was a fixer himself, as well as a drug trafficker and a money launderer. For a long time, he brought in cocaine from Colombia that he sold at $12,000 per kilo to the Zetas criminal organization from Mexico, who were then operating in Guatemala.

17-03-03-Guatemala-Diagram

Borrayo?s wife, Mirza Silvana Hernández de Borrayo, is next to him on the chart. She was the front person for Borrayo?s companies, which included a lottery, a great way to move cash in illicit ways.

According to numerous officials in the US and Guatemala, Marllory and Mirza had a longtime relationship with former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, and were laundering money for the then VP, who was involved in multiple corruption and possibly drug trafficking schemes. Mirza, officials told me, attended Baldetti?s 50th birthday party, and was also the conduit through which her husband allegedly passed a suitcase of cash to the Patriot Party for its 2011 presidential campaign, which Baldetti and Otto Pérez Molina won.

17-03-03-Guatemala-Baldetti

Former President Otto Pérez Molina (left) and Vice President Roxana Baldetti

After their victory, Baldetti and Pérez Molina set up what can only be called a mafia state in which they employed various parts of the government to service corruption and criminal schemes. The goal -- as has become clear from the numerous Guatemalan investigations, assisted by the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG), and most recently the US government -- was to make as much as money as possible while running the government. Those who benefited were people who were participating directly in these criminal and corruption schemes, including both the campaign contributors and their operatives in the government such as then Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

But there were also indirect beneficiaries -- judicial operatives, politicians, lawyers and many others. In 2014, for instance, the Baldetti - Pérez Molina wing greased the wheels of this mafia state and made sure that then Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz would not continue in that post, placing instead someone who they believed was an ally. They also rigged the elections for the high courts, controlled who became comptroller, and set up their people in the tax administration and customs offices.

But they overestimated their power and reach, and people who they thought were allies began to see that things were changing -- especially as it related to international pressure from the CICIG and the United States to right judicial wrongs. New Attorney General Thelma Aldana, working with the CICIG, began to develop corruption cases that reached the top of the government. Independent judges took positions in high impact courts where sensitive cases could be heard, and Marllory Chacón, yes that same Marllory Chacón, made a critical decision to hand herself over to US authorities.

17-03-03-Guatemala-Chacon

Marllory Chacón

The year was 2012, and Chacón sought to, as she told her lawyer, clean up her affairs with the US. But the Treasury Department was just the tip of the iceberg of Chacón?s problems. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was also looking into her activities, and so the DEA and Chacón made a deal: she would help to prosecute drug traffickers in the region if the US would lower her sentence.

A deal struck, the DEA installed cameras and listening devices in her Guatemala house and told her to just "keep doing what you do." And over the next several months, Chacón became what one DEA agent told me was one of the most effective informants in recent memory, helping to corral suspects from Mexico to Colombia and nearly all points in between. Among them were, if last week's US indictment of former Vice President Baldetti and former Interior Minister López Bonilla are to be believed, two of the highest level officials involved in Guatemala?s mafia state.

17-03-03-Guatemala-MLB

Former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla

For his part, López Bonilla had assigned a 15 to 20 person security detail to Chacón, even though, by his own admission, he did not know that she was a DEA informant. He also met with Chacón at her house where, in clear view of the cameras the DEA had installed, he accepted several stacks of cash to protect another Guatemalan trafficker. This may have permanently sunk him, even if he gets out of the corruption charges he is facing in Guatemala.

Chacón also played a key role in the downfall of Baldetti. In early 2014, she lured her ally, Borrayo, to travel to Paris for what he thought would be an amorous encounter. Instead French authorities pounced, arresting and shipping him to the US to face charges. Mirza followed him to the US shortly thereafter, and their testimonies are thought to be at the heart of the accusation against former Vice President Baldetti.

InSight Crime's 3rd Weekly Facebook Podcast

Welcome to our Facebook Live stream! Feel free to post your questions in this comment section.

Posted by InSight Crime on Thursday, March 2, 2017

Our conversation on Facebook Live about the creation of a mafia state in Guatemala, among other topics.

InSight Crime Analysis

First, we should mention that in this story, neither Baldetti nor López Bonilla nor Otto Pérez Molina for that matter have been convicted. Nonetheless, by all appearances, it seems as if they represent what we have come to call a mafia state. I don?t use that term lightly. In fact, I rarely use that term because overuse can water down its impact. I would say mafia state is one in which the state has become a vessel for the interests of organized crime and corruption, that this is a top-down structure, that it happens in a systematic manner, and that it happens over a prolonged period of time.

In the case of the Otto Pérez Molina presidency, the state was clearly a vessel. The administration sought to obtain control of all the nodes of power, and the ability to thwart justice, in order to enrich themselves.

SEE ALSO: Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

This was a top-down structure, run from the presidency, with tribute from those operators who were making money in their own schemes. López Bonilla, for instance, is being investigated for contracting everything in the interior ministry -- from toilet paper, to security cameras, to vehicles -- to third parties who had some connection with him, so he could reap some of the benefits of these contracts, then, according to a Guatemala Attorney General's Office - CICIG case, he would kick up some of the proceeds to the top. That is obviously systematic as well as top-down. Finally, this occurred over many years, so it was prolonged.

Not every corruption scheme or organized scheme that involves state actors makes for a mafia state, but by all appearances (and by the cases that are playing out in the Guatemala and now US justice systems), the Otto Pérez Molina administration was a mafia state.

share icon icon icon

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

CACHIROS / 30 AUG 2017

A former minister and member of one of the richest families in Honduras has pleaded guilty in a US court…

COLOMBIA / 29 JUL 2020

Colombia’s Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez has withdrawn a criminal complaint alleging InSight Crime Co-director Jeremy McDermott defamed her character…

CACHIROS / 9 MAR 2017

Government contracts awarded to businesses run by a powerful drug clan during the administration of former Honduras President Porfirio Lobo, allegedly…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Collaborating on Citizen Security Initiatives

8 JUN 2021

Co-director Steven Dudley worked with Chemonics, a DC-based development firm, to analyze the organization’s citizen security programs in Mexico.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Deepens Its Connections with Universities

31 MAY 2021

A partnership with the University for Peace will complement InSight Crime’s research methodology and expertise on Costa Rica.

THE ORGANIZATION

With Support from USAID, InSight Crime Will Investigate Organized Crime in Haiti

31 MAY 2021

The project will seek to map out Haiti's principal criminal economies, profile the specific groups and actors, and detail their links to elements of the state.

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events - Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…