HomeNewsBriefGuatemala Ex-President and VP Still Wield Power From Jail: Report

Guatemala Ex-President and VP Still Wield Power From Jail: Report


A recent report has suggested that Guatemala's incarcerated former president and vice president continue to wield power from behind bars over a year after their fall from grace, casting fresh doubt on whether this monumental case has achieved any lasting successes against impunity.

Analysts consulted by Guatemalan news outlet La Hora affirm that imprisoned former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti continue to exert power within the criminal structures they helped set up. Both public officials resigned and were detained in 2015, following revelations that they were leading a customs fraud network named "La Línea."

SEE ALSO:  InDepth on Prisons

Since then, the government has seized various assets belonging to the pair, including bank accounts and real estate.

However, political experts point out that both Pérez Molina and Baldetti could maintain control over assets that remain undetected. La Hora's report also suggests that the power of the two former officials goes beyond their economic clout.

"Power has to do with money, but also with…the ability to exert influence," independent political analyst Renzo Rosal told La Hora. In the case of Pérez Molina and Baldetti "this capacity has been affected or damaged, but it has not been totally lost," he added.

One of the starkest displays of this power involves the purchase of the former president's seized assets. The company Canyon Group, which made a bid to buy a huge quantity of avocados from a farm seized from Pérez Molina, apparently has ties to other businesses implicated in an illegal campaign financing and government contracting network dubbed "Cooptación del Estado." Rosal told La Hora that this case demonstrates how Pérez Molina maintains control over front companies in an attempt to recover illegal assets of his which have been seized.

The report also draws attention to the recent transfer of nine inmates out of the Mariscal Zavala military detention center, which seemingly laid bare the presence of criminal networks inside the facility. According to sources consulted by La Prensa Gráfica at the time, the transfers broke up a power structure led by Pérez Molina and fellow inmate Gustavo Alejos -- a former government official also implicated in the Cooptación del Estado case -- who were apparently issuing orders to people close to them via telephone.

Nevertheless, Alejos, who had been among those transferred out of Mariscal Zavala, returned to the prison only days later. According to analysts cited by La Hora, this perplexing decision is an example of the ongoing co-option of the judicial system by corrupt elites.

InSight Crime Analysis

That Pérez Molina and Baldetti could be pulling the strings of their criminal networks from behind prison walls is not hard to fathom given the proven abilities of Guatemalan elites to co-opt state institutions. Despite the progress in the country's justice system over the past year, this is yet another hint that hopes of a "Guatemalan spring" may still be out of reach.

SEE ALSO:  Investigation: Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime

Guatemala's prison system is notoriously corrupt, providing space for powerful figures such as the former president and vice president to use both money and political influence to their advantage. Indeed, shortly after his incarceration, news emerged that Pérez Molina was enjoying luxurious conditions in his former cell at the military facility Matamoros.

His current situation may not be very different. As political analyst Edgar Gutiérrez explained to InSight Crime, "in Guatemala they call Mariscal Zavala the VIP prison because of the luxuries and privileges given to the inmates, and also because the majority of former top-ranking government officials and businessmen facing corruption charges are held there."

"Pérez Molina 'gives orders' from his apartment-jail…and maintains good relations with judges, congressmen and advisors to current President Jimmy Morales" -- people who have tried to lobby in the selection of the Congress president and of court magistrates, according to Gutiérrez.

Experts agree that as a former military official, it is easier for Pérez Molina to exchange favors with his former peers as long as he continues to be held in army bases. What's more, Pérez Molina had a longstanding relationship with the "king" of Guatemala's prison system -- convict Byron Lima, who was assassinated in jail in July 2016 -- stemming back from their time in the armed forces together.

The cases of Pérez Molina and Baldetti also illustrate how efforts to tackle criminal structures in Guatemala may have simply led to their re-accommodation rather than their dissolution. As long as corrupt structures maintain power within state institutions, there are worries that Guatemala's recent achievements against impunity -- largely spearheaded by the United Nations-backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) -- will not result in long-term improvements to the status quo. In a recent statement, CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez alluded to the fragility of the institution's successes, and the ongoing possibility that they may be reversed.

"This doesn't detract from the merit nor the impact of the Public Ministry [Ministerio Público] and the CICIG," Gutiérrez added. "But they are quite simply operating on a system that has not seen reforms in norms, internal processes, or been purged of its staff."

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


Haiti’s Customs Agency has seized an extremely large quantity of illegally imported ammunition.

ECUADOR / 24 DEC 2021

Ecuador's descent into violence followed a common path: more cocaine led to more cash and more weapons for the gangs.


US and Guatemalan authorities will tell you Moises Humberto Rivera Luna, alias "Viejo Santos," is a top member of the…

About InSight Crime


InSight Crime Contributes Expertise Across the Board 

22 SEP 2023

This week InSight Crime investigators Sara García and María Fernanda Ramírez led a discussion of the challenges posed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s “Total Peace” plan within urban contexts. The…


InSight Crime Cited in New Colombia Drug Policy Plan

15 SEP 2023

InSight Crime’s work on emerging coca cultivation in Honduras, Guatemala, and Venezuela was cited in the Colombian government’s…


InSight Crime Discusses Honduran Women's Prison Investigation

8 SEP 2023

Investigators Victoria Dittmar and María Fernanda Ramírez discussed InSight Crime’s recent investigation of a massacre in Honduras’ only women’s prison in a Twitter Spaces event on…


Human Trafficking Investigation Published in Leading Mexican Newspaper

1 SEP 2023

Leading Mexican media outlet El Universal featured our most recent investigation, “The Geography of Human Trafficking on the US-Mexico Border,” on the front page of its August 30…


InSight Crime's Coverage of Ecuador Leads International Debate

25 AUG 2023

This week, Jeremy McDermott, co-director of InSight Crime, was interviewed by La Sexta, a Spanish television channel, about the situation of extreme violence and insecurity in Ecuador…