HomeNewsAnalysisWho Killed Guatemala's Prison 'King' Byron Lima? (Part I)

Who Killed Guatemala's Prison 'King' Byron Lima? (Part I)


In what will undoubtedly be the first of many official versions regarding the July 18 murder of Guatemala’s most famous prisoner, Byron Lima, the government’s civilian intelligence agency blamed a jailed drug trafficker for commissioning the attack on Lima for stealing a drug load.

In the internal memo obtained by InSight Crime from a source close to the Office of Civilian Intelligence (Direccion General de la Inteligencia Civil - DIGICI), analysts from agency insinuated that Eduardo Francisco Villatoro Cano, alias "Guayo Cano," paid 1 million quetzals ($132,000) to Marvin Montiel Marín, alias "el Taquero," to assassinate Lima inside the Pavón prison.

Thirteen others were killed in the attack, including a female visitor from Argentina; ten more injured. Lima was shot twice in the head, authorities said. Three others were decapitated and authorities found one corpse incinerated. The Interior Ministry is still trying to identify all the victims.

The DIGICI memo says grenades were also used in the attack and the prison riot that followed, and that the weapons used were smuggled in via an aqueduct that led to a water well inside the prison grounds.

The raw intelligence memo, which is marked "confidential" but that an Interior Ministry source says is authentic, states that Lima was suspected of having stolen "2,000 packets of drugs labeled cocaine" from Villatoro. It does not say when or where this happened, but it places this theft as the chief theory of what motivated the attack.

Villatoro is a convenient scapegoat. He is in a separate jail from Lima for the murder of eight police in 2013, who he and his men killed for their alleged role in a theft of drugs from him as well.

The memo adds that there was a dispute between Lima and Montiel Marín for control of the Pavón. In a press conference on July 18, Interior Minister Francisco Rivas also blamed Montiel Marín for the attack, but he did not mention Villatoro.

Control of Pavón

Lima transferred to Pavón in November 2015 and, in an April interview with InSight Crime, said that in the five months he had been there, he had secured control of half the jail. Pavón has 22 sectors and three leaders per sector. He said he had made allies of or named 30 leaders, out of 65 total.

Lima also claimed to be providing health services, giving more classes, providing work for the prisoners and resolving long-standing disputes over the precious lots that the prisoners use to put up small businesses and restaurants.

Most of all, he claimed he was providing the prisoners with better security. Lima, who was sentenced to 20 years for his participation in the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi in 1998, was a former army special forces officer and had mastered the art of befriending the masses who were not part of high-level organized crime or the gangs since his incarceration in 2000. The so-called "rusos," or "Russians," were Lima’s army, mostly because he promised them and their families protection.  

This last point is worth explaining. As Lima saw it, prisoners needed two things when they were in jail: a means to pay for their families while they were imprisoned; and a safe way to see their families inside those dangerous, predatory walls.

The DIGICI's version asserts that Lima was against illicit drugs on the inside of the jails, yet he was deeply enmeshed in the drug world on the outside.

"Now, what do we need here? That visits can happen every day. That on the weekends, the visitors can stay over," he explained. "That I know that I can sell bottled water, and that I am not going to be robbed, assaulted. Because that used to happen. Here they assaulted the carpenters, the guy who sold fruit, the one who sold chicken. 

"There was an extortion network inside (the prison), which extorted your family, saying that if you did not give them a certain amount of money, there would be problems. So we started putting up our own rules, because the majority of prisoners want to live in peace."

Citing one example, Lima claimed to have usurped the leadership of one prisoner in Pavón because he was raping all the new prisoners who were assigned to his section.

In another example, Lima said he and his rusos had done full body cavity searches of more than a dozen transfers who were connected to a recent massacre at another prison. They found blades, numbers from which to extort people, telephone chips. A few of the prisoners had hidden the telephones in their anal cavities, he said. When they were finished with the search, they split the transferred inmates into different sectors.

"That's how we imposed order on all of them," he said. "We had them for five hours and after we had completely searched them, we made them understand that this is not like their old jail."

Lima also said that he had prohibited firearms in the prison. And he had set up intelligence teams who would break up meetings or anything that looked like it could be a conspiracy in motion.

"It's against the rules to be hanging around in groups that are larger than three or to have meetings anywhere," he said. "What I mean is that you have to keep walking. You can't stop there and chat or anything like that."

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

Lastly, Lima said he was trying to prohibit certain drugs, especially crack cocaine. This was "a process," he admitted. Selling the drugs is lucrative, and many dealers on the inside work for larger dealers on the outside.  

"They will go down or they will go free, or they will be transferred," he said, speaking of the offending drug peddlers. "But what I am trying to do is make sure that no one else picks up where they left off."

Indeed, many of the dealers would not cede this regulatory space to Lima, and Montiel Marín apparently was among them.

"There was information that the fight may have started because Captain Byron Lima had prohibited the sale of drugs, directly impacting the business dealings of Marvin Montiel Marín, alias 'El taquero,' who was responsible for selling illicit substances inside the prison," the DIGICI memo says.

Lima and Drug Trafficking

However, the DIGICI memo is littered with inconsistencies and contains huge gaps. The memo does not say how this internal Pavón dispute over petty drug dealing is related to Guayo Cano. Nor does it say if the supposed theft of the drugs from Guayo Cano was of drugs being dealt inside the prison.   

What’s more, the memo says that Lima was involved in drug trafficking, specifically, "collecting money from drug theft, recuperating stolen drugs, coordinating radars [and] providing security for clandestine runways for the movement of [illicit] drugs."

It adds that Lima was protected by Julio César and Luis Antonio Lemus Grajeda, aka "Cara Dura," or "Stone Face." The Lemus Grajeda brothers -- both of whom are in jail -- are being charged for running a hit man network, supposedly connected to the Mexican criminal organization the Zetas. The DIGICI memo says the brothers are also involved in human trafficking and money laundering.

However, there are two other "Caradura" in Guatemala: Julio Jaime and his brother Francisco Edgar Domínguez Higueros. They are infamous drug traffickers who supposedly operate primarily on the local level, controlling the lucrative market of Guatemala City and its surroundings. It's not clear if these are the same Cara Dura that the DIGICI memo refers to.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Prisons

In sum, the DIGICI's version asserts that Lima was against illicit drugs on the inside of the jails, yet he was deeply enmeshed in the drug world on the outside, as well as being connected with the Cara Dura, although it's not clear which ones.

All of this is plausible. Government investigators had told InSight Crime about Lima's connection to the Domínguez brothers, although they did not mention the Lemus Grajeda brothers. And controlling a confined space like jail requires, perhaps, a stricter interpretation of what is acceptable, especially if it involves large sums of money and potential for violence in these restricted spaces.

"In jail, you have to make sure that not just anyone can do business, because it becomes a competition," Lima said.

Yet, no judicial investigators or US government anti-drug agents had connected Lima directly to drug trafficking or the theft of drug loads, a common practice in Guatemala. They say that while he may have tried to collect money from traffickers -- something Lima denied -- he was never a trafficker himself.

In the interview with InSight Crime, Lima denied he even had contact with the Cara Dura and acted confused when asked about them.

Lima did, however, mention Montiel Marín, who he simply called "a problem." Then he breathed deeply.

*Read Part II - The Byron Lima Murder in Guatemala: a "Crime of the State"?

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