HomeNewsAnalysisDrug Gangs Cast Shadow over Guatemala Campaign Funding

Drug Gangs Cast Shadow over Guatemala Campaign Funding


As Guatemala gets closer to election day, allegations of misdeeds continue to dog the campaigns, from murders of candidates to irregularities in campaign funding.

Guatemala goes to the polls on September 11 to elect the president, members of Congress, mayors, and town councilors. The run-up to the elections has been plagued by violence and scandals, with more than 20 political murders committed by mid-June. As InSight Crime predicted, the violence worsened over the summer as the elections drew nearer, with the death toll now standing at 36, according to the Human Rights Ombudsman.

Many of these murders are linked to organized criminal interests who are determined to win influence through having the candidate of their choice elected, especially in local positions of power like mayorships.

A more subtle threat to the legitimacy of the Guatemalan elections is posed by irregularities in campaign funding. A recent report by Mirador Electoral, a union of various NGOs, found that the two leading parties had flouted the spending cap of 48 million quetzeles ($6 million). The leading Partido Patriotica (PP) has spent Q88.7 million, according to the watchdog, almost double the assigned limit. Meanwhile UNE-GANA, a coalition including the National Unity of Hope party (Unidad Nacional de Esperanza - UNE) of current President Alvaro Colom, spent Q61.8 million. Mirador Electoral added it was likely that the Lider party has broken the spending limit, as they almost had by August 15, with more than three weeks to go before the elections.

According to the NGO, this overspending is particularly troubling because there is a “direct correlation” between money spent and how each party fares in the polls. The PP, far in the lead with spending, has been leading the presidential polls for some months. The latest poll by Siglo 21 put PP candidate, Otto Perez Molina, at just under 45 percent, an eight point drop from his showing in the previous poll, but still far ahead of his next rival, Lider's Manuel Baldizon, at 22.5 percent. This suggests that the financial irregularities are a serious issue, capable of affecting the outcome of the election.

A still more serious source of concern is the source of these funds. Mirador Electoral warned in a July report that political parties appeared to be trying to conceal the source of their funding, which comes mainly from private donors. It noted that the lack of transparency gave reason to believe that money came from “illicit sources.”

There is a long tradition of Guatemala’s criminal groups, who are mostly well-established, rooted in a particular region, and family-run, like the Mendozas and the Lorenzanas, buying off politicians. As InSight Crime has noted, building ties to mayors, who have influence on security policies and control budgets at the municipal level, is often a priority for these groups.

Ties to illegal groups, including the "hidden powers" that control Guatemalan politics, are thought to permeate much of the party system. Prominent newspaper editor Jose Ruben Zamora has alleged that army General Mauro Jacinto, who was found murdered soon afterwards, told him that Colom’s campaign for the presidency had received Q16 million from local criminal bosses such as the Leones, the Mendozas, and the Lorenzanas, and more than Q20 million from the Zetas. This allegation, if true, illustrates the kind of massive funding that drug trafficking groups can offer to political parties -- together, the two alleged donations come to the best part of the total spending allowed.

The entry of cash from organized crime into election campaigns is particularly corrosive because of the way the Guatemalan political party system is set up. The parties tend to have little coherent ideology, and often field candidates who have bought their way in and have little connection to the party’s central command. Many switch party affiliation multiple times, according to convenience and shifting alliances, in a system built on local patronage and power broking. As Mirador Electoral noted in its July report, this means that candidates have more loyalty to their financial backers than to their party or the voters who elected them. When elected, the new president, congress members, mayors and councilors will “owe” their backers favors in return for this crucial financial support, and will set their priorities accordingly.

An example of what this kind of obligation might look like was given in December, when the Zetas reportedly forced a radio station to broadcast a message saying they had paid Colom $11.5 million, but that he had failed to fulfill his promises to them. This followed the government’s operations against the criminal group in Alta Verapaz, where Colom declared a state of siege, sending the army onto the streets. The Zetas' message warned that the president would "pay" for not complying, and that the Zetas would start a “war” in the country. Since then the group has committed a number of horrific attacks in Guatemala, though none appeared to be motivated revenge on Colom.

Guatemala's troubled electoral process looks set to roll on past September 11 -- with no candidate likely to get more than 50 percent of votes in the first round, the presidential elections will go to a second round in November.

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.


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.


Related Content


A former Guatemala mayor and his family have been accused of smuggling more than a dozen migrants later massacred in…


Before the firing of Juan Francisco Sandoval, Guatemala’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, Attorney General Consuelo Porras pressured him to curtail investigations…


As day broke in Guatemala City on August 31, 2016, a judge named Carlos Ruano anxiously awaited a meeting with one of Guatemala’s most powerful…

About InSight Crime


Venezuela Coverage Receives Great Reception

27 MAY 2023

Several of InSight Crime’s most recent articles about Venezuela have been well received by regional media. Our article on Venezuela’s colectivos expanding beyond their political role to control access to…


InSight Crime's Chemical Precursor Report Continues

19 MAY 2023

For the second week in a row, our investigation into the flow of precursor chemicals for the manufacture of synthetic drugs in Mexico has been cited by multiple regional media…


InSight Crime’s Chemical Precursor Report Widely Cited


We are proud to see that our recently published investigation into the supply chain of chemical precursors feeding Mexico’s synthetic drug production has been warmly received.


InSight Crime’s Paraguay Election Coverage Draws Attention 

5 MAY 2023

InSight Crime looked at the various anti-organized crime policies proposed by the candidates in Paraguay’s presidential election, which was won on April 30 by Santiago Peña. Our pre-election coverage was cited…


InSight Crime Cited in OAS, CARICOM Reports

28 APR 2023

This week, InSight Crime’s work was cited nine times in a new report by the Organization of American States (OAS) titled “The Impact of Organized Crime on Women,…