HomeNewsAnalysisPortillo’s Trial a Test for Guatemala’s Weak Justice System
ANALYSIS

Portillo’s Trial a Test for Guatemala's Weak Justice System

GUATEMALA / 25 JAN 2011 BY ANDRES ORTIZ AND STEVEN DUDLEY EN

In what is undoubtedly the biggest test in the history of the traditionally rickety Guatemalan justice system, the trial of Guatemalan President, Alfonso Portillo, began this week.

The challenges are many and only begin with the charges: theft of $15 million from the Defense Ministry's pension fund. If convicted and sentenced, Portillo may also have to face down extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on charges of money laundering and embezzlement of charity donations.

But what's at stake is more than Portillo's innocence or guilt, it's the idea of justice in Guatemala. Less than four percent of all cases are prosecuted, and, like so many presidents and politicians before him, Portillo seemed to believe he was untouchable and that the extra cash was simply his reward for reaching the pinnacle.

His conviction would be the first step toward breaking that pattern, which has long contributed to Guatemala's instability, corruption, poverty and one of the highest murder rates in the world. 

It took more than five years and the assistance of a United Nations' prosecutorial body for Guatemalan authorities to finally bring the former president to trial. In 2004, Portillo fled to Mexico seeking a safe haven after losing his diplomatic immunity as a member of the Central American Parliament. There he managed to dodge several attempts to deport him to Guatemala. He was finally extradited in 2008, but freed on bail shortly thereafter.

Portillo's case might have been forgotten were it not for the United Nations' International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comision Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG). CICIG – which began work in 2006, assisting and training Guatemalan prosecutors and police – centered its efforts on breaking what it termed the "clandestine" networks that were part of Guatemala's political and security sectors. Portillo fit squarely into this category.

As president, Portillo had hired several cabinet members who were former security and intelligence officials, including retired General Eduardo Arevalo Lacs, who became his defense minister. Arevalo Lacs had been linked to the Cofradia, a secretive group of former military officers who worked closely with organized crime.

CICIG’s investigation claims that Portillo worked closely with his defense minister to steal at least US$15 million. The two men were eventually arrested but Arevalo Lacs was freed in January 2011, after the case against him fell apart.

Now it's Portillo's turn, and the test for Guatemala is huge, as is the case, totalling more than 700 documents.

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.

DONATE

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.

Tags

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

EXTRADITION / 8 AUG 2012

Guatemala announced it will extradite Waldemar Lorenzana, head of the Lorenzana crime family, to the US to face drug…

GUATEMALA / 14 FEB 2013

The Guatemalan government has opened investigations into 13 of the 18 judges accused of corruption by UN-backed judicial body CICIG,…

DISPLACEMENT / 25 JUN 2015

The number of Central American child migrants detained in Mexico increased by nearly 50 percent during the first part of…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Combating Environmental Crime in Colombia

15 JUN 2021

InSight Crime presented findings from an investigation into the main criminal activities fueling environmental destruction in Colombia.

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.