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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.