Guatemalan authorities detained five police officers, four of them from the anti-drugs force, and five government prosecutors accused of being part of a ring that smuggled chemicals into the country to produce synthetic drugs.
The officials were arrested on May 18, along with four others, after an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the Interior Ministry. The trafficking ring is alleged to have operated out of the Santo Tomas de Castilla port in the city of Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean coast, and included three agents and one inspector (pictured above) from Guatemala’s counter-narcotics police (DAIA). Officials said the group may have been working for the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, reported Prensa Libre.
Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla told reporters that the police officers were key to the trafficking operation. They allegedly used their positions as a cover to smuggle precursor chemicals arriving from Asia, and guarded the warehouses where the chemicals were stored. The chemicals were then taken to clandestine labs and used to produce synthetic drugs to be sent to Mexico and the US.
Lopez stated, “What [this] reveals is the corrupting capacity of organized crime, that there is no institution that can be completely free of infiltration.”
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrests highlight the vulnerability of Guatemala’s security forces to infiltration by criminal groups. Officials, particularly the police, can be very useful assets to traffickers if they exploit their position and hand over inside information.
Two heads of Guatemala’s National Police (PNC) have been dismissed for drug-related offences in the last three years. In September 2009, PNC director Porfirio Perez was arrested, along with the assistant director, over the disappearance of some 118 kg of cocaine seized in a police operation. The following March, police chief Baltazar Gomez was detained over another case of stolen cocaine.
The fact that the officials in this latest case are accused of smuggling precursor chemicals, rather than cocaine, points to the growing importance of Guatemala as a site for synthetic drug production. The Sinaloa Cartel is thought to be one of the main drivers behind this, and may now be producing more methamphetamine in Guatemala than in Mexico. This adds weight to the theory that the 10 officials were working for the Sinaloa Cartel.
While the arrests are cause for concern over the infiltration of Guatemala’s institutions, Central American Politics points out that the fact that this story has come to light marks progress in Guatemala’s efforts to crack down on corruption.