HomeNewsAnalysisGuatemalan Drug Lord, Lover of Horses, Beloved by Fishermen
ANALYSIS

Guatemalan Drug Lord, Lover of Horses, Beloved by Fishermen

GUATEMALA / 4 MAY 2011 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

Guatemala’s top drug lord, Juan Alberto Ortiz Lopez, alias “Juan Chamale,” is accused of smuggling over 3,000 kilos of cocaine in small fishing boats in 2009, according to a feature by elPeriodico.

Ortiz, who was arrested March 30 in an operation supported by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), worked with local fishermen in smuggling drugs north to Mexico, according to a U.S. extradition order issued in March, reports the newspaper.

Alongside his partner, Mauro Salomon Ramirez Barrios, who was arrested in October 2010, Ortiz may have also ordered the fabrication of semi-submersibles for transporting cocaine, the extradition order reportedly says.

Ortiz’s ties to the community may help explain some of the apparent outbreaks of popular support that followed his arrest. ElPeriodico’s piece quotes one alleged former employee, who says, “I support him, because he always paid attention to me and my family. It doesn’t matter to me if they accuse him of drug trafficking, I’ll still stand by him during the good and the bad.”

ElPeriodico also printed excerpts from a 2009 calendar released by Ortiz, featuring the alleged drug lord posing alongside some of his high-breed Spanish racehorses.

Ortiz may have spent between $10,000 to $20,000 per horse, according to the newspaper.

But besides his racehorse collection, Ortiz also invested his fortune (worth an estimated 100 million quetzals, or about $12.3 million) in land estates, in the northern departments of San Marcos, Quetzaltenango and Retalhuleu.

He also owned hotels, buses, a cable company, and invested money into local churches and beauty contests in San Marcos. The Guatemalan government must now begin the process of seizing some of these assets — likely to be a long, drawn-out process.

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