The assassination of a Guatemala mayor with alleged links to a drug trafficking group illustrates the links between elites and criminal groups -- and the power they can wield over local politics.
Carlos Darinel Aguirre, the mayor of La Libertad municipality in Huehuetenango department on Guatemala's northwest border with Mexico, was killed in a heavily armed attack on October 25, AP reported. His 12-year-old daughter and a bodyguard who were with him at the time also died in the ambush.
Aguirre was traveling in an armored white SUV in the border town of La Mesilla, Huehuetenango, when a group of men attacked him and his escort with high-caliber rifles and grenades, according to initial reports. At least 100 shots appeared to have been fired, police stated.
ElPeriódico reported that the Anti-Drug Trafficking Unit of the Attorney General's Office (Fiscalía Contra el Narcotráfico) had been keeping an eye on Aguirre after he was allegedly linked to the Huistas -- a criminal organization active in the area. However, direct investigations had been stalled due to a Guatemalan law requiring government officials to undergo a lengthy "preliminary hearing" process before they can be tried, Attorney General's Office sources told the newspaper.
SEE ALSO: Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime
A local official also told elPeriódico that before occupying the top municipal post, Aguirre allegedly made a small fortune from trafficking drugs and renting out machinery, and would finance political parties.
Diario Digital reported that preliminary investigations by anti-narcotics bodies determined that Aguirre was part of a drug trafficking organization and owed 300 kilograms of cocaine, which was one of the motives for the assassination.
The same news outlet stated that Aguirre and three other individuals had become "the new leaders" in the region following the 2013 arrest of Eduardo Villatoro Cano, the head of a local criminal group in competition with the Huistas.
The deceased mayor of the opposition party Renewed Democratic Liberty (Libertad Democrática Renovada - Líder) was reportedly also a state contractor, which had put him on the radar of the Supreme Electoral Court (Tribunal Supremo Electoral - TSE) and the Comptroller General's Office for Accounts (Contraloría General de Cuentas - CGC), EFE reported.
Carlos Darinel Aguirre
InSight Crime Analysis
Aguirre is not the first Guatemalan mayor with apparent links to organized crime to be targeted in recent years. If the allegations against him are true, the mayor's death illustrates the at times tense relationship that can exist between criminal organizations and their political allies, especially in this strategic corner of Guatemala.
As InSight Crime has documented in an extensive study of the Huistas, this organization has for years mastered the art of infiltrating local businesses and political elites to further their drug smuggling and money laundering activities. Just across the border with Mexico, Huehuetenango department is a traditional contraband and human smuggling route that has grown in importance in recent years.
The Huistas have sustained their symbiotic relationship with regional elites -- which includes ties to the congressional representatives, Attorney General's Office and the local police -- through their economic, political and social activities, and by not relying heavily on violence.
However, there are precedents to Aguirre's case. In 2010, the mayor of La Democracia municipality -- which borders La Libertad -- was allegedly killed for attempting to set up his own drug trafficking operations, a Guatemalan told InSight Crime.
But while the group appears to settle their scores with the local elite, the Huistas themselves are essentially untouchable. A number of rival criminal groups have fallen across Guatemala over the past few years, yet the Huehuetenango network has so far remained intact.