HomeNewsBrief‘La Patrona’ Escape From Guatemala Prison Spotlights Institutional Corruption
BRIEF

‘La Patrona’ Escape From Guatemala Prison Spotlights Institutional Corruption

ELITES AND CRIME / 12 MAY 2017 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

A former mayoral candidate turned criminal leader in Guatemala has escaped from one of the country’s detention centers, further illustrating how corrupt institutions undermine the pursuit of justice and rule of law.

Marixa Ethelinda Lemus Pérez, alias “La Patrona,” escaped from the Mariscal Zavala military detention center. However, when exactly the escape took place remains unclear, according to Prensa Libre

At the moment, the main theory is that Lemus Pérez dressed as a security guard and escaped out the front door of the prison with help from some of the facility’s employees.

Eight workers from the prison have been arrested in connection with the prison break, including the prison’s warden and security chief. 

Lemus Pérez is accused of heading a criminal network involved in kidnapping and murder. In March of 2015, she and other members of her network were sentenced to up to 90 years in prison for the kidnapping and murder of Lemus Pérez’s aunt Amanda Lemus, and for the death of her estranged husband Álvaro Mejía, Prensa Libre reported separately. 

It is still unclear when exactly Lemus Pérez escaped. There is some speculation, according to Prensa Libre, that she may have escaped as early as last week after having attended a hearing related to other murder charges she is facing. 

Authorities have since mounted a search operation both within the military base and in the surrounding areas. The operation involves members of the police, the penitentiary system and the armed forces. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

The escape of La Patrona illustrates the near complete control that the country’s criminals have even after they are detained in prison, which has helped to further corrupt the country’s penitentiary system and undermine faith in its judicial institutions. 

Perhaps the most notorious example of this dynamic is the case of Byron Lima, a former special forces officer in the Guatemalan army who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 1998 killing of Bishop Juan Gerardi. 

SEE ALSO: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Soon after being transferred to the Pavón prison in November 2015, Lima took control of half of the jail, using his more than three decades of military and intelligence experience to protect himself. However, Lima’s luck ran out July 18, 2016 when the so-called “king” of Guatemala’s prisons was killed

Some of Guatemala’s former political elites are also reportedly known to wield significant power from jail. In December 2016, a report suggested that imprisoned former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, charged with leading a vast corruption network, continued to exert their power over the criminal structures they had helped set up, despite being behind bars. 

SEE ALSO: Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime

Guatemala’s prison system is notoriously corrupt, and it comes as no surprise that La Patrona was reportedly able to escape with such ease, particularly given her family’s power in Guatemala. The complete lack of control that the state has over the country’s prisons was further evidenced this week in a video showing a top Guatemalan prison official negotiating with leaders of the Barrio 18 gang. 

In instances like this, it is often the interior minister, who is in charge of the national police and the prison system, who would typically be fired. However, current Interior Minister Francisco Manuel Rivas Lara appears to be making efforts to reform the prison system after his predecessor Mauricio López Bonilla used his powerful government position in the service of the mafia state consolidated under Pérez Molina’s administration. While at the moment there is no concrete evidence to support the theory that La Patrona’s escape may have been orchestrated as an effort to undermine Rivas Lara’s reform efforts, the country’s historical and current criminal dynamics point to this as a possibility.

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

BRAZIL / 19 JAN 2017

The current violent crisis inside Brazil's penitentiary system is a perfect illustration of why authorities ignore -- or militarize…

COSTA RICA / 2 SEP 2020

Raids across Costa Rica have exposed a web of front companies filtering illegally mined gold to the United States, in…

BARRIO 18 / 5 FEB 2019

A spike in police slayings have El Salvador's officers on edge as some called on social media for extrajudicial executions…

About InSight Crime

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.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…