Pubdate: Tue, 13 Mar 2007
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2007 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Hector Tobar and Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


GUATEMALA CITY -- The distinguished guests from El Salvador entered 
this capital city with one set of police officers as bodyguards, and 
another set of police officers waiting to ambush them.

As they drove along mountain roads, Eduardo D'Aubuisson and his 
fellow legislators were entering a trap set by rogue Guatemalan 
officers hired by drug traffickers, officials said. The police 
bandits believed the Salvadorans were using their diplomatic immunity 
to work for rival traffickers.

The final, violent hours of D'Aubuisson's life, and the equally 
disturbing events of the days that followed, seem plucked from the 
plot of the Oscar-winning movie "The Departed," where trust is 
illusory and crosses and double-crosses are bloody. But that is 
reality in today's Central America, a region of weak institutions, 
where crime bosses control police death squads and organized crime is 
said to be more powerful than the state.

Fear of rogue police is widespread.

"There are criminal cases where a witness has named a police officer, 
and the prosecutor will say to the witness, 'Are you really sure you 
want to say that?' " said an adviser to Guatemala's public 
prosecutor's office, who declined to be named because he fears for 
his safety. "The prosecutor says this not only because he is afraid 
that the witness might be killed. The prosecutor is afraid he will be 
killed, too."

Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein said last week that 
organized-crime groups have "penetrated" most of the agencies of the 
criminal-justice system, including the police, the public 
prosecutor's office, the courts and the attorney general's office. 
Such corruption is also endemic in El Salvador and Honduras.

"This is not just a Guatemalan problem, it's a regional problem," 
Stein said. "These groups transcend borders, and they have more 
resources than we do."

Suspects Slain In Prison

Four Guatemalan police officers were arrested in the killing of 
D'Aubuisson and two other legislators. The suspects were themselves 
slain in a maximum-security prison three days later, in a stunning 
extrajudicial crime that placed new pressures on the government to 
take radical measures.

At one point, Guatemalan defense officials, business leaders and 
diplomats "from a friendly country" suggested to President Oscar 
Berger that he declare a state of emergency and place the police 
under military control, Stein said. The president ignored that advice.

"We don't want to relive the past ... with the military running 
civilian agencies in violation of the constitution," Stein said. To 
do so would have been a violation of the peace accords that ended 
Guatemala's civil war a decade ago, he added.

Berger was expected to ask President Bush for help in fighting 
organized crime when the two men met here Sunday.

A swirl of accusations, official leaks and rumors has linked the 
killings to top officials of the Guatemalan security forces and also 
to crime groups and legislators in El Salvador.

D'Aubuisson and two other members of the Central American Parliament, 
which promotes and regulates regional trade, left San Salvador by car 
the morning of Feb. 19 for a meeting in Guatemala City.

Guatemalan officials said privately they have long suspected that 
some members of the parliament engage in drug dealing. Central 
America is a key conduit of cocaine between Colombia and Mexico. The 
legislators have diplomatic immunity, so their cars cross Central 
American borders without being inspected.

Although a number of Salvadoran legislators have been linked to drug 
trafficking, officials in Guatemala and El Salvador say there were no 
indications D'Aubuisson, 32, was involved in illicit activities.

"My brother was an upstanding person who was just starting his 
political career," Roberto D'Aubuisson Jr. said. But D'Aubuisson said 
he did not believe the killing was a case of mistaken identity 
either, a theory floated by some Salvadoran officials. "The question 
is, What was the motive?"

"Payback" Killings

D'Aubuisson said he believed former Salvadoran congressman Roberto 
Silva, who was thrown out of the legislature last year for alleged 
drug ties, ordered the killing of his brother as "payback" against 
the government of Salvadoran President Tony Saca. The D'Aubuissons 
are sons of Roberto D'Aubuisson Sr., the controversial founder of the 
ruling party in El Salvador. Silva evaded arrest and remains a fugitive.

The rogue cops were reportedly led by Luis Herrera, head of the 
National Police's anti-organized-crime unit. On the surface, he was a 
respected officer. When armed robbers stole $8 million in cash at 
Guatemala City's airport that was headed for the U.S. Federal Reserve 
Bank in September, Herrera helped lead the investigation.

But Herrera also allegedly worked for a "cleansing unit" in the 
National Police. Also known as "death squads" here, the groups had 
their origins in the 1990s, when they began carrying out 
extrajudicial executions of crime suspects.

The "cleansing squads" and other groups of rogue cops have evolved 
into multipurpose crime groups linked to a variety of illicit 
activities, including the shipping of stolen cars, kidnapping, human 
trafficking and the drug-trafficking networks that bring Colombian 
cocaine to the U.S., according to official sources here and 
human-rights groups.

Last week, retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina, a former chief of military 
intelligence who is now a presidential candidate, charged that Victor 
Rivera, a top adviser to the Interior minister, ran one of the 
"cleansing squads." Members of Molina's Patriot Party also produced 
evidence that they said linked Rivera to kidnappings. Rivera has not 
responded to the charges.

In Honduras, former President Ricardo Maduro said in a recent 
interview that organized-crime groups effectively controlled parts of 
eastern Honduras where drugs are shipped by sea and air. He said the 
government had little hope of asserting its authority there.

Drug trafficking by top officials in Guatemala's security forces has 
long been a problem. In 2005, U.S. officials lured Adan Castillo, 
Guatemala's top drug cop, to Virginia and arrested him and two other 
top Guatemalan drug-enforcement officials on charges of smuggling 
several tons of cocaine.

U.S. officials said they had assisted Guatemalan authorities in 
background checks on all new hires to the security forces. But old 
hires were not vetted, and many corrupt elements remain in the force.

U.S. officials also expressed frustration at resistance to a plan to 
create a U.N.-backed "Commission Against Impunity" to assist the 
criminal-justice system.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman