A US federal court has indicted the former vice president and the former interior minister of Guatemala on cocaine trafficking charges, suggesting US officials are skeptical about the ability of the Central American country's justice system to successfully prosecute these powerful figures.
According to a press release from the US Embassy in Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti and Mauricio López Bonilla were separately indicted on criminal charges of "conspiring to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, intending and knowing that the cocaine will be unlawfully imported into the US."
(The indictments of Baldetti and López Bonilla are embedded at the bottom of this article.)
Former Vice President Baldetti is currently jailed in Guatemala as she faces several corruption cases in that country. For his part, former Interior Minister López Bonilla is already under investigation for corruption and money laundering in Guatemala.
Although the United States has not sent extradition requests yet, the Associated Press reports that US officials say they will soon seek the extradition of Baldetti and López Bonilla.
InSight Crime Analysis
The indictment and possible eventual extradition of Baldetti and López Bonilla strongly highlights the doubts the United States has in the efficacy of Guatemala's criminal justice system.
In the past, the United States has strongly supported anti-corruption efforts in the Central American country, most prominently those of the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG). The commission's work helped to initially bring down Baldetti and her president, Otto Pérez Molina, who have been accused of running the country like a "mafia state."
However, Guatemala's justice system has shown continuing signs of weakness when prosecuting former top officials accused of wrongdoing. It is possible that the new US indictments against Baldetti and López Bonilla could be intended as a kind of "Plan B" in case the trials against these powerful figures unravel in Guatemala.
There is a precedent for such an action. After a Guatemalan court acquitted former President Alfonso Portillo of corruption charges in 2011, he was extradited in 2013 to the United States, where he eventually faced jail time on money laundering charges.
Furthermore, the indictments against Baldetti and López Bonilla represent a clear message from the United States not only to corrupt elites in Guatemala, but also to those in other countries in the region, particularly Honduras and El Salvador. If those nations cannot or will not hold corrupt officials accountable, the United States is prepared to take action to ensure they face justice.
If Baldetti and López Bonilla are eventually extradited, the question will arise about whether they will strike plea deals with US prosecutors that would require them to provide information about other Guatemalan elites suspected of criminal activities. Given the expansive scope of the various corruption schemes uncovered in recent years in Guatemala, in addition to Baldetti and López Bonilla's experience in high positions of government, the testimony these former officials could provide would likely implicate various other powerful figures in Guatemalan society.
López Bonilla indictment: