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Guatemala's Los Huistas Continue to Build Influence Network

ELITES AND CRIME / 17 FEB 2021 BY SHANE SULLIVAN EN

Los Huistas, a Guatemalan drug trafficking group connected to a number of government officials, has continued to build its network of political influence, as recent events have shown.

In late January, the brother of Sofia Hernández, the acting vice president of congress, was arrested on charges related to a money-laundering coverup involving Los Huistas, the Attorney General's Office announced.

Henry Hernández was arrested after nearly three years as a fugitive, having first been implicated back in 2018 in a coverup that resulted in the dismissal of money laundering charges against a member of Los Huistas.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The ‘Huistas’

The 2018 investigation, known as “Huistas Impunity,” accused Henry Hernández and 15 others of falsifying documents for Juan Bautista Rozotto López, a Huistas leader who was charged with money laundering after he was captured in 2013 with 600,000 quetzales in cash ($77,000) hidden in the trunk of his car. To insulate Rozotto from criminal charges, members of Los Huistas allegedly produced a false loan document and a purchase agreement for a backhoe to ostensibly justify the cash.

Sofia Hernández, a representative of the western department of Huehuetenango, has denied any knowledge of her brother's alleged crimes.

But both of her brothers – Henry and Filomeno, the ex-mayor of Santa Ana Huista in Huehuetenango – have been extensively connected to companies connected to Los Huistas’ network of businesses, including a water park and a gas station, according to newspaper El Periódico.

Further revelations about Los Huistas' political allies have emerged in 2021. Two days prior to Hernández’s arrest, the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad – FECI) accused the ex-director of Guatemala’s penitentiary system, Camilo Gilberto Morales Castro, and an anti-money laundering prosecutor,  Mónica Renee Palacios Cano, of denial of justice and obstruction of criminal action in the Huistas Impunity case, according to an article by Prensa Libre.

InSight Crime Analysis

In 2016, an InSight Crime investigation revealed how Los Huistas dominated an extensive drug trafficking and money laundering network in western Guatemala through connections to politicians, police and even Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.

Since then, the group's power has continued to rise, despite being the subject of investigations from FECI and the now-defunct United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala — CICIG).

These links between the congressional vice president’s brother and Los Huistas show how one of the country's main criminal groups continues to enjoy proximity to the highest echelons of power.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala Police Case Stirs Up Dark Memories

While Sofía Hernández has not been connected to any criminal activities, her familial ties to Los Huistas are significant, especially in a country with such a long history of connections between lawmakers and organized crime groups. Members of congress exert significant influence at the local and national level, including in naming and overseeing local officials and allocating funds for public projects.

Los Huistas have a history of cultivating connections to congress. Prior to being arrested on money laundering charges in 2017, congressional representative Emilenne Mazariegos was suspected of serving as a go-between for Los Huistas and Roxana Baldetti, the former vice president of Guatemala, who was jailed in 2018.

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