A Brave Guatemalan Judge Challenges Corrupt Brass Hats

Original article can be found here.

Something new and promising happened in Guatemala last month when Judge Marco Tulio Molina Lara sentenced ex-Army Lt. Col. Carlos Ochoa Ruiz to 14 years in prison for trafficking in cocaine. Mr. Ochoa Ruiz is one of at least 31 current or former Guatemalan military officers the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has suspected of running drugs. But no Guatemalan officer of his rank has ever received such a lengthy sentence. He has one final appeal available, which may yet set him free.

In American eyes, Mr. Ochoa Ruiz is a recidivist criminal. In 1990, DEA special agents set him up in a sting operation; they claim that he sent half of a metric ton of cocaine, worth $7.5 million wholesale, to Tampa, Fla. He was indicted in absentia in federal court. The U.S. demanded his extradition but after Guatemala’s top judge ruled in favor of the extradition and was subsequently murdered, the ruling was later reversed by the same high court. The murder remains unsolved. Mr. Ochoa Ruiz was caught running cocaine again three years later, leading to his arrest and last month’s conviction.

Guatemala has a major problem bringing present or former military officers suspected of felonies to justice. “Guatemalan military officers strongly suspected of trafficking in narcotics rarely face criminal prosecution,” wrote the State Department in 1994, complaining that suspects like the former Lt. Col. Ochoa Ruiz were merely discharged from military service. “In most cases, the officers continue on with their suspicious activities.”

The Clinton administration has largely chosen to ignore military involvement in Guatemalan drug trafficking, in part because for much of its first term it was focusing on a peace agreement, finally concluded in 1997, to end Guatemala’s 35-year civil war. It feared that raising the impunity issue would disrupt the peace process. Earlier this year the State Department reported that Guatemalan traffickers are now moving 200 to 300 metric tons of Colombian cocaine a year to northern markets, up sharply from about 50 tons in the early 1990s. That is, according to State Department officials, at least half of all the cocaine reaching the U.S. Most of the cocaine coming in through Mexico transits through Guatemala as well.

Former or current military officers, who for years have enjoyed a high degree of impunity, often protect Guatemalan criminal syndicates. According to a signed petition from Guatemalan peasants that was presented to the DEA, one syndicate led by military officers and a mayor killed locals who resisted abandoning the land they farmed, which the trafficking syndicate wanted for clandestine runways. Ex-mayor Arnoldo Vargas Estrada was later convicted of drug trafficking in federal court in New York. The four Army colonels named by the peasants in the same petition were never charged anywhere.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Arzu undertook to clean house in the military when he began his four-year term in 1996. The State Department reports that last year he discharged even more “military officers thought to be involved in corruption and smuggling.” But one of the bravest steps taken by anyone in Guatemala so far was last month’s sentencing of Mr. Ochoa Ruiz by Judge Molina Lara. It was the Bush administration that first requested Mr. Ochoa Ruiz’s extradition in 1991. The Guatemalan military later discharged him explicitly to put distance between his name and the institution. But that did not stop a military tribunal from inexplicably reclaiming jurisdiction over the former officer in 1993 in order to dismiss the U.S. extradition case against him, citing a “lack of evidence.”

The Clinton administration appealed the case three times, all the way to Guatemala’s top judicial body, the Constitutional Court. The presiding judge, Epaminondas González Dubon, was already well respected for his integrity, having made a historic, independent ruling in 1993 when he declared unconstitutional the imposition of martial law by the country’s then-president, Jorge Serrano. Mr. Ochoa Ruiz’s extradition case reached Judge González Dubon’s bench less than a year later, and in March 1994 he signed an order to extradite the former officer and circulated it to the court’s other judges to sign as well. On April 1, as Mr. González Dubon was returning with his family from an Easter day-trip, four men assassinated him as his wife and son looked on.

How did the Clinton administration react? Neither President Clinton nor his ambassador to Guatemala, Marilyn McAfee, said a word about it. They remained silent when, on April 12, the Constitutional Court’s surviving judges quietly overturned the late Judge González Dubon’s ruling and set Mr. Ochoa Ruiz free. Apparently the Clinton administration saw no reason to publicly protest this reversal of its efforts to bring a suspected drug trafficker to justice.

Four months later, in the Village Voice I accused another military officer, Gen. Carlos Pozuelos Villavicencio, the former Air Force commander, of allegedly using military aircraft to transship cocaine. In a hastily called press conference, Guatemala’s then-defense minister, Gen. Mario René Enríquez, threatened to spend his “last personal penny” suing me for libel. Ambassador McAfee called her own press conference two days later and announced that Gen. Pozuelos Villavicencio was indeed a DEA suspect. The general was never charged nor did any lawsuit ever materialize.

Some important gains have been made under President Arzu, but Guatemala still has a long way to go and fear is still an overriding consideration for all judges. The record of impunity is one reason Colombian traffickers have made alliances, with Guatemalan military officers. Considering the price paid to finally convict Mr. Ochoa Ruiz, it is no wonder that the cocaine traffic through Guatemala expanded so rapidly.

Mr. Smyth, a contributor to “Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know,” (Norton,
1999) writes regularly for

San Jorge’s Struggle: Guatemalan Village Blocks Resort

Original title: “San Jorge’s Struggle: A Guatemalan Village Blocks a Planned Luxury Resort”

When Jorge found me, I was having coffee with a friend in the lakeside town of Panajachel, Guatemala. Jorge was panting, having peddled a fast mile on his bike from the nearby village of San Jorge de la Laguna or “Saint George by the Lake.” “Hurry, they’re going to hurt people,” he pleaded. Four days into a tense land dispute and occupation, the military had finally arrived. There are ten Mayan villages around Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan, a clear blue basin ringed by mountains including twin giant volcanoes and one lava-induced dwarf. In several villages, people’s first language is Tzhutuhul. In San Jorge and the others it is Cachiquel. The women, especially, from both groups still wear tipica clothing. The general designs and colors are specific to each group, while the patterns and images within them are unique to each village.

I collected my foreign press credential and cassette recorder, while my friend, Michael, a photographer, dusted off his 35mm camera — I didn’t want to cover the situation alone. We drove quickly to San Jorge. Descending a winding dirt road, we came upon two mismatched sides preparing to clash. About 50 armed military police confronted about an equal number of unarmed San Jorge villagers comprised of women, children, and men. Each side was arranged in three lines. The first rows of each were faced off like two touch football teams in a scrimmage. The first line of police wore solid dark blue uniforms and white helmets and wielded black truncheons. The first line of villagers, all women, wore dark red and black smocks known as guipils, embroidered with violet, pink and red flowers around the neck. The guipils were tucked into long black skirts with silver glitter and matching red trim.

Behind the women were a group of children. Even the tiniest girls also wore matching guipils and skirts. Behind the children were a group of men, most of them old and also wearing matching shirts and pants (by then the younger men had abandoned the scene so as not to be perceived as provoking violence). The old men were gathered around a flat green plank bier with sanded round handles. On top of it sat a motionless figure, a plaster statue of San Jorge. After the Conquest, San Jorge villagers had merged their own spiritual deity with that of Saint George the Dragon Slayer, one of many Christian deities forced upon the Maya people. San Jorge’s ancestors accepted this icon and today, he is considered their modern-day spiritual guide. This plaster figure held a lance that looked and felt like it was a solid piece of silver. Elders from the village told me that the original conquistadores had brought the lance from Spain.

Behind the first row of helmeted police with truncheons stood another row of fewer men, more spread out. Each held either a tear gas grenade launcher or an Israeli galil automatic rifle. Behind them another row of police, each holding a leash to a dog.

As we entered the scene, the Sergeant-in-command gave an order. The first line of police raised their truncheons, dogs barked, and soldiers wrapped index fingers around rifle triggers. The women held their line and sealed it by shuffling themselves closer together. Only a few of the children behind them began to cry. The elder men behind them reached down and raised San Jorge by his bier. The Sergeant turned to look at us, the only witnesses to the confrontation that was about to occur. Michael and I approached calmly and extended our hands. I gave the Sergeant my press credential and told him that my friend was a photographer working for me. He looked the credential over before giving it back. Then he ordered his men at ease. Everyone, including the dogs, found a spot in the shade. Two hours later, after it became apparent to the Sergeant that we weren’t leaving, he ordered his men to withdraw.

Several days later the military returned and attacked at dawn. First they threw rocks, and then fired tear gas and moved in with truncheons. Dozens of people, including women, children, and young teenage boys, were injured, many with gaping head wounds. Sixty-seven villagers, all adult men, were arrested. Soldiers tied each prisoner’s hands behind his back and then together in groups of six or seven. One young soldier carrying a galil rifle taunted one of the prisoners. He accused him of being a leftist guerrilla, claiming to recognize him from a firefight in the mountains. The prisoners were loaded onto army boats on Lake Atitlan and then ferried a short distance to Panajachel — a partly successful attempt to avoid waiting television cameras, which by mid-day, had gathered in San Jorge’s square. In Panajachel, the prisoners were loaded onto old yellow school buses and taken to the municipal prison in nearby Solola.

This confrontation took place in 1992 — the quincentenary year of Columbus’ arrival. Two weeks later, all 67 prisoners were released. There were lucky, as they could have “disappeared.” Human rights groups accuse the military in Guatemala of forcibly “disappearing” up to 40,000 victims, and killing as many as 100,000 more in the course of its 30-year counterinsurgency against leftist guerrillas. In this case, however, hundreds of witnesses including dozens of foreigners saw the military detain San Jorge’s men. It was reported by the local press. I wrote a story about it for the Christian Science Monitor. Rather than attract more attention, the military eventually freed them all.

Since then, the villagers of San Jorge have continued to hold their ground. Theirs’ is a struggle over land, but not for growing food. The disputed area is approximately 200 acres of gently rising slopes between the shoreline of Lake Atitlan and the foothills holding the mountainside village of San Jorge. The land is too sandy to be fertile. Instead, this conflict pitches property rights and ventured capital against the survival of this village. Two wealthy brothers from Guatemala City, Luis and Carlos Saravia Camacho, are trying to build a hotel luxury resort between the village and the lake; the community is resolved to resist them.

San Jorge is no idyllic place, clinging to its past. Members of almost every one of its families work in some form of wage labor. Most families are also dependent on Lake Atitlan’s tourist trade. But tourism around the lake has attracted more backpackers than tour buses so far. At present, there are only several large hotels and dozens of smaller hostels, mostly in nearby Panajachel. San Jorge, by comparison, is undeveloped.

The Camacho brothers want that to change and they hold legal title to the shoreline property between the lake and the village. But the community of San Jorge says they have “a historical right” to the same land, which they communally share, because their ancestors founded the village before the Conquest. The Camacho brothers bought the shoreline property in 1975 from Domingo Fuentes, a man who neither lived nor worked on the land. His parents acquired title to the land in the late 1800s — during the coffee boom that swept much of the Central American isthmus. During this period, Creole governments forcibly broke up land collectively held by indigenous communities and issued new titles to recent European immigrants. The changes created landowning oligarchies among the immigrants while greatly reducing the indigenous population’s farmland.

If the Camacho brothers succeed in building their resort, they boast that it will be one of the largest in Central America. Any such endeavor would forever change San Jorge as well as other communities on the lake. Indeed tourism, in different ways, works in favor of both sides in this dispute. The idea that a five-star resort could attract upscale clients is the foreseen demand driving the Camacho brothers’ plan. The proximity of San Jorge to Panajachel — which has the largest foreign presence of any highland Guatemalan village — is what deters the military from using force to control the villagers.

Another option would be to offer the community “carrots.” In 1992, the Camacho brothers offered to expand a school, improve electrical lines, and install sewers if the villagers would relinquish their claim to the land. The community said no. Since then the situation has evolved into stalemate. By 1995, the villagers had built a flat board structure in the middle of the road, which serves as the headquarters of San Jorge’s volunteer fire brigade and first aid clinic. This ramshackle structure also doubles as a classroom for literacy and multi-purpose community center. It blocks all access to the terrain between San Jorge and the lake. So far no one has tried to remove it.

Can this village survive? The Camacho brothers are in no hurry to break ground. The combination of bad press over human rights abuses along with rising common crime has kept a lid on tourism in Guatemala. Recent attacks like the January 1998 rape of five students from St. Mary’s College in Maryland will continue to keep all but the most unconventional tourists away. Someday, however, the memories of this and other attacks will fade and the Camacho brothers will again try to develop their planned resort. The community again will resist them.

The physical wounds from their first battle have healed. In fact the only permanent loss was to San Jorge himself. In the confusion of the dawn attack, the military stole his silver lance. Does this worry the community? “No,” one elder says, “San Jorge draws his strength from the people, and the people draw their strength from him.”

The Nun Who Knew Too Much: Dianna Ortiz Links This North American Man to Her Rape and Torture in Guatemala

Original article can be found here.

THEY MET last month on the set of NBC’s “Today” show. Jeanne Boylan, the forensic artist who drew the Unabomber suspect, is the expert the FBI most often hires for top-priority crimes. Dianna Ortiz is a Roman Catholic nun who says that in November 1989 in Guatemala she was kidnapped, raped and tortured in a clandestine prison. The two women worked together to compose sketches of four men who were present. But unlike most of those Boylan has drawn, one of these men, according to Ortiz, may have been working for the U.S. government.

Only 5-foot-3 with delicate features making her look much younger than 37, Ortiz, over the past six weeks, has managed to reopen wounds in this country first incurred in the 1980s over Central America. She has gained ground in her search for her assailants, which even White House officials admit may yet implicate the U.S. intelligence community.

“We’re going to let the chips fall were they may,” says Nancy Soderberg, the Clinton administration’s deputy national security advisor. “Our premise is that none of this happened on our watch. We just want to get to the facts.”

The Ortiz case once again draws America’s attention to Guatemala, where a succession of military governments have compiled the hemisphere’s worst record for brutality. Human rights organizations estimate that as many as 100,000 Guatemalans have been killed by their own government over the last four decades; torture, disappearances and massacres have been routine. Whatever one makes of Ortiz’s story, her bid for U.S. government documents on her ordeal puts to the test CIA Director John Deutch’s assertions that he will clean up the agency and tests the White House’s ability to get the answers about the relationship between U.S. intelligence officials and the D-2, Guatemala’s military intelligence service.

The Bush administration doubted Ortiz’s credibility. Last week the Clinton administration released documents about Ortiz’s case from that period. In one cable to Washington, then-ambassador Thomas F. Stroock. a newly arrived political appointee of George Bush, wrote that he did not believe her account He rejected her claim that one of her abusers, “Alejandro,” was a North American man who spoke Spanish poorly and cursed in English. Stroock questioned “the motives and timing behind the story,” writing that it may have been a “hoax” designed to influence an upcoming vote in Congress on Guatemala over U.S. military aid.

“I know something happened to her in Guatemala,” says Stroock by telephone from Wyoming. “What I don’t know is what it was.” Stroock, who met Bush at Yale, has long complained that Ortiz failed to cooperate with both U.S. and Guatemalan authorities after her ordeal. “It is one thing to be traumatized, but it’s another thing not to talk to the police.” About her story, Stroock adds, “I don’t know whether to believe her or not” But today a growing number of people m the White House, Congress and elsewhere do believe Ortiz and her story.

“I’m so stunned that there was a credibility question,” says sketch artist Boylan, who was called to work on the case of Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who falsely claimed that her children had been abducted by a blade man but later admitted to having killed them herself. Boylan doubted Smith’s story. “It is part of my job to look for such factors,” Boylan adds, explaining that she constantly evaluates whether a subject’s emotional reactions and the details communicated are appropriate in the context of the alleged crime.” With Ortiz, she says, “I found nothing to indicate deception of any kind.”

Boylan and Ortiz worked for four days to reconstruct her memories of her abductors, Ortiz, who by then was down to 87 pounds, reacted differently to each image. “At first it took her an hour to look at Alejandro. She hyperventilated, and then passed out,” recalls Boylan. “[Later] she curled up in a ball on her bed weeping.” The two women finished the sketches last Sunday, releasing them at a press conference the next day.

Ortiz, who has broken down during many previous Press encounters, appeared stronger and more confident than in any before. “Even though I carry their faces with me, they can’t haunt me anymore,” she said in response to one reporter’s question: “They’re out there. I’m free.”

Ortiz also announced that she was suspending the vigil and fast that she had begun in front of the White House, and admitted taking some of her inspiration from Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard-educated attorney. Last year Harbury fasted in Lafayette Square to find out what the U.S. government knew about the disappearance of her leftist guerrilla husband. Twelve days later, Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) revealed that a CIA-paid Guatemalan D-2 intelligence officer, Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, was involved in his torture and extra-judicial execution.

Torricelli is one of 103 members of Congress from both parties who last week signed a letter to President Clinton backing Ortiz’s demands for an U.S. government documents related to her case and others. The next day the State Department released more than 5,800 documents related to her case and 17 other U.S. citizens who have suffered human rights abuses in Guatemala. The documents released so far about Ortiz, however, elaborate only on the Bush administration’s previous doubts about her story, not on die information she demands.

One document, from a yet unidentified agency, states: “We need to dose the loop on the issue of die ‘North American’ named by Ortiz. . . . The EMBASSY IS VERY SENSITIVE ON THIS ISSUE but it is an issue we will have to respond to publicly when the [ABC News Prime Time’] show airs.” The next paragraph and the whole next page of this document is censored for national security reasons.

The Clinton administration, while saying that so far it has found nothing on “Alejandro” has recently been sending conflicting signals about Michael Define, an American innkeeper murdered in Guatemala in June 1990 (Col. Alpirez is also implicated in that lolling). But the administration has promised to release more information about these cases and others in June. Taking a personal step, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake paid three visits to Ortiz during her Lafayette Park vigil.

Her ordeal began on November 2,1989, just days before the Berlin Wall started to crumble. Ortiz, who had come to Guatemala to teach Mayan grade-school children how to read and write, was a guest at a religious retreat in the colonial town of Antigua. From there at around 8 in the morning she disappeared. U.S. embassy officials, including Ambassador Stroock, helped anxious nuns and priests try to find her. They did after about 24 hours. Stroock later saw her briefly in Guatemala City inside the Papal Nuncio. But he did not believe the statement outlining her main claims late-distributed by the office of Guatemala’s archbishop. It “is in Spanish and not in the first person,” he wrote.

Although he offered assistance, Stroock and other U.S. officials were denied the opportunity to question Ortiz. Neither he nor any member of his staff saw the cigarette burns which she allegedly had on her chest and back. The embassy could find no witnesses nor confirm any material details of her account. These facts “seem to indicate that the stay as told is not accurate,” Stroock told his superiors in Washington.

The following week Congress was scheduled to vote on economic and military aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries, a package which the Bush administration was backing. In the months before, Guatemala, especially, was overcome by a wave of violence. These attacks led some to argue that Congress should put conditions on military aid to the country.

“The old Guatemala of the early ’80s seems to have returned with a vengeance,” wrote Philip B. Heymann, a Harvard University law professor who was then directing a U.S.-funded criminal justice project in Guatemala, in a September 1989 letter to Sen. Robert Byrd. “The Senate should condition any military aid on the Guatemalan government’s investigation, prosecuted and conviction of the perpetrators of the recent political violence. The entire $9 million earmarked for such aid should be held in suspension until adequate measures are taken.”

The Bush administration disagreed, and Stroock feared that Ortiz’s case might have been fabricated to try and sway Congress. Such logic led him and other Bush administration officials to eventually doubt her completely. Sue Patterson, the embassy’s consul general, wrote in April 1992 that the case was a “big political problem for Guatemala, because everybody believes a nun more than they do the [Guatemalan government] . . . . I don’t believe [her], nor does anyone else who knows the case well.”

Ortiz, however, still bears signs of her experience, including 111 small round scars. Seen by another doctor as well as by church officials in the Papal Nuncio, Ortiz was later examined by Dr. Gelbert Gutierrez in her home town of Grants, N.M. He confirms the scars: “All over her body, second degree burns,” he says curtly between patients by telephone.

In Guatemala, the then-defense minister, Gen. Hector Gramajo, was quoted as saying that Ortiz’s scars were the result of a bizarre “lesbian love tryst” Gramajo, who has admitted his own working relationship with the CIA, said that he learned of the alleged tryst from the U.S. embassy.

Who in the embassy? ABC News reported that Lewis Amselem, then the embassy’s human rights officer, was responsible for disseminating that rumor about the alleged love tryst. Amselem later threatened to sue ABC News but never did. Recently reached for comment at his State Department office in Washington, Amselem denies he made the statement.

Ortiz tells a different stay. She was behind the religious retreat house in Antigua when she says she was abducted by armed men, who later threatened to release a hand grenade if she did not get on a public bus. It stopped in the small town of Mixco, where the men escorted her to a waiting poke car, before driving her to a secret prison. There, Ortiz says, she was raped repeatedly. Later, “I was lowered into an open pit packed with human bodies–bodies of children, women and men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive–and all swarming with rats.”

Recently Ortiz has made public one alleged detail of her ordeal that few people had heard besides her therapist, Mary Fabri, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist who is now treating Bosnian torture survivors. Fabri says that this act destroyed Ortiz’s personality. At some point, her abusers handed her what she has described as other a small machete or large knife. Says Ortiz: They “put their hands onto the handle, on top of mine . . . . I was forced to use it against another” victim. Ortiz thinks she may have killed her.

What saved Ortiz from suffering the same fate? She says Alejandro, the North American, intervened. Earlier in the experience, she says her abusers had referred to this man as their boss. Later, she says, they brought her to him. Upon realizing that Ortiz was American, Alejandro, she says, ordered his men to stop.

“He kept telling me in his broken Spanish that he was sorry about what had happened to me,” says Ortiz. “He claimed it was a case of mistaken identity,” that his men had confused Ortiz with Veronica Ortiz Hernandez, a leftist guerrilla. Alejandro, according to Ortiz, then offered to drive her in his own vehicle, a gray Suzuki four-wheel-drive, to the U.S. embassy to talk to a friend who would help her leave the country. She says agreed. But only blocks before reaching the embassy, while the Suzuki was stuck in heavy traffic, Ortiz says she jumped out and ran.

Stroock told Washington that the archbishop’s third-person statement describing her ordeal was not consistent with what “persons around Ortiz” had told him at the time. They behaved erratically, explaining as fear what Stroock suspects was disingenuousness. And “when [I] saw her, [I] was not permitted to see her alone and she said nothing me. . .

Ortiz needs no intermediaries now: “I have been consistent in my account since the beginning. The U.S. embassy was inconsistent and, in fact, deceptive.” Alice Zachmann is a youthful 70-year-old nun who is a close friend of Ortiz. She says, “If none of this had happened to Dianna, I think she’d be teaching children in Guatemala now.”

Instead Dianna Ortiz has gained exactly what some U.S. officials have always feared: credibility in Washington.


Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist, has previouslywritten about Guatemala for Outlook, the New Republic and the Wall Street Journal.

My Enemy’s Friends: In Guatemala, the DEA fights the CIA

Original article can be found here.

Why did the Guatemalan military kill American innkeeper Michael DeVine? In April of this year, acting CIA Director William 0. Studeman and other U.S. officials implicated Colonel Julio Roberto Alpírez, who was on the CIA payroll at the time of the crime, in the June 1990 killing. But Studeman offered no explanation for the murder, and Alpírez ‘s motive for ordering it has remained a mystery. The New York Times reported that DeVine may have been killed because he knew about the Guatemalan military’s illegal logging of mahogany trees near his ranch in the country’s northern Peten jungle. DeVine’s widow says it may have been because in his restaurant he served a civilian before serving a military officer. Assistant Secretary of State Alexander F. Watson told Congress DeVine might have been killed in a dispute over missing army rifles.

There is, however, a more probable motive for DeVine’s murder. For the crucial backdrop to this story is not only the involvement of the CIA with the Guatemalan military, but the involvement of the Guatemalan military in drug trafficking. From the beginning, U.S. intelligence sources say, officials have had information to suggest that drugs were behind DeVine’s murder. “DeVine could have found out that there were Guatemalans dealing with drugs up there because there were,” says Thomas F. Stroock, who was the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala at the time of the DeVine killing. Now a former Drug Enforcement Administration special agent says that DeVine was killed because he knew Alpírez was involved in drug trafficking.

The ex-DEA agent, Celerino Castillo III, says he worked with both G-2 (the former name for the Guatemalan military intelligence) and the CIA from 1985 to 1990. Castillo says that CIA agent Randy Capister (whose identity Stroock confirmed) served as the agency’s covert liaison with G2. Capister, Castillo alleges, learned that DeVine had found out that Alpírez was involved in cocaine trafficking and marijuana cultivation near DeVine’s ranch. (DeVine, though not a DEA informant, knew U.S. officials and others associated with the U.S. Embassy.) Once Capister learned of DeVine’s discovery, he in turn informed Colonel Francisco “Paco” Ortega Menaldo, then head of G-2. Colonel Alpírez was under Ortega’s command within the G2, while CL4 agent Capister reported not to then-Ambassador Stroock, but to Alfonso Sapia-Bosch, then the CIA station chief. Sapia-Bosch, reached for comment, declined to make one. Says Stroock of these agents: “I had no way of knowing what they did or did not know.”

What the DEA knew or knows is also in doubt. Back in 1993 the DEA stated of DeVine’s murder: “There is, no indication that drugs were involved in this case.” But since Alpirez’s role in the murder was revealed, the DEA’s chief spokesman, James McGivney, has declined to answer any queries on Guatemala. Studeman, for his part, has denied that the CIA played any role in DeVine’s killing. When the CIA obtained specific information about Alpírez’s alleged role in the crime in October 1991, the agency turned it over to the Justice Department but withheld it from Congress.

Castillo’s new charge has now led Representative Robert Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat, to reexamine what the CIA told the Justice Department. In March, Torricelli publicly revealed Alpírez ‘s role in both DeVine’s murder and that of a Guatemalan guerrilla leader, Efraín Bámaca Velasquez, who was married to American lawyer Jennifer Harbury.

In a letter to the CIA Inspector General dated May 4, Torricelli wrote that if DeVine was slain to protect a drug operation, the crime would have been politically motivated and therefore potentially subject to prosecution here under U.S. anti-terrorism laws. “If CIA officials were fully aware of the circumstances surrounding Mr. DeVine’s murder when they requested a Department of Justice ruling,” wrote Torricelli, “they clearly did not provide that information to the Justice Department. If that is the case, then the CIA officials involved are guilty of obstruction of justice.”

Whatever the motives for DeVine’s murder, it’s clear that the CIA and the DEA have often been working at cross-purposes in Guatemala. The same military that the CIA has trained and supported in its war on leftist insurgents has also provided cover for some of the major drug traffickers pursued by the DEA. Since 1989, the DEA has formally accused at least eleven Guatemalan military officers of drug trafficking, including six Army captains, two Army lieutenant colonels, two Air Force majors and even one Air Force general; the general, Carlos Pozuelos Villavicencio, was even denied an entry visa into this country because the DEA “knows, or has reason to believe” that he is involved “in the illicit trafficking of narcotics,” according to the US. Information Service.

Yet, as a 1994 State Department report explains, “Guatemalan military officers strongly suspected of trafficking in narcotics rarely face criminal prosecution.” In most cases, the Guatemalan military has merely discharged from active service those officers named by the DEA. Say the State Department report, “In most cases, the officers continue on with their suspicious activities.”

Take the case of Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Ochoa Ruiz, “a/k/a Charlie,” the first officer against whom the DEA initiated prosecution. Today he stands accused in Florida of collaborating with Colombia’s Cali cartel to ship multi-ton level units of cocaine to the United States. In 1990, DEA agents infiltrated Ochoa’s organization, which allegedly operated from a private farm in Escuintla, near Guatemala’s Pacific Coast. In October, DEA agents allegedly watched as Ochoa and others loaded cargo onto a small plane; the agents then tracked the cargo to Tampa, where they later seized a half metric ton of cocaine, with a street value of over $40 million. Ochoa was indicted in Florida’s US. Middle District Court and the State Department requested his extradition.

In response, the Guatemalan military discharged Ochoa as well as two Army captains also implicated in the case. But that didn’t stop a Guatemalan military tribunal from later reclaiming jurisdiction and ruling to dismiss all charges for “lack of evidence.” The State Department then appealed the case all the way to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, whose presiding judge, Epaminondas Gonzalez Dubon, had a reputation for integrity. In March 1994 Gonzalez lived up to his reputation with an unprecedented ruling: he signed a decision declaring Ochoa’s extradition to be constitutional.

It turned out, however, that there were forces more powerful than the high court. On April 1 in Guatemala City, Gonzalez was assassinated by four unidentified gunmen. Then, on April 12, the surviving judges reversed Gonzalez’s decision. Ochoa, in Guatemala, is now free. The DEA’s sting against Ochoa was the United States’s best chance to prosecute a Guatemalan military officer. Instead, the case established a precedent: even officers under indictment are above the law.

In the increasingly isolationist post-cold-war world, it might be tempting to overlook cases such as this one. Yet there are U.S. interests at stake. Taking the war on drugs seriously means taking on Guatemala. Although in the early 1980s most U.S.-bound cocaine flowed through the Caribbean, in the 1990s the Mexican and Central American land isthmus has become the cocaine superhighway. Mexico forwards the bulk of the drug to the United States. And Guatemala serves as a warehouse for Mexico. “With hundreds of unmonitored airfields and a good network of roads leading to Mexico,” reads the State Department’s latest drug control report. “Guatemala became the Colombian cartels’ choice in Central America for cocaine transshipment.”

Now Studeman claims that the CIA must maintain contacts with Guatemalan military intelligence officers–such as Alpírez–to collect information about drug trafficking. The Clinton administration agrees; after cutting other CIA programs to Guatemala, it has allowed the CIA’s anti-drug operations there to continue. The trouble is that the CIA has been relying for information about drug trafficking on the very institution that has been producing drug trafficking suspects wanted by the DEA. At the very least, this casts doubt on the reliability of Guatemalan military intelligence. It also casts doubt on the CIA: whatever information the CIA has provided so far has yet to lead to the prosecution of a single officer.

FRANK SMYTH is a freelance journalist who has written about drug trafficking in Guatemala for The Washington Post, The Village Voice and The Wall Street Journal.

Has Guatemala Become the Cali Cartel’s Bodega?

Original article can be found here.

Colombia has been reluctant to prosecute top leaders of the Cali cartel and dismantle their organization. The Clinton administration is pushing Colombia to do more, while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Jesse Helms (R., N.C.), threatens to impose trade sanctions.

But Colombia is not the only country where drug cartels and their major confederates operate with impunity. It shares that distinction with Guatemala, where the Drug Enforcement Administration has also uncovered evidence of institutional corruption.

While Colombian cartels used the Caribbean as their primary smuggling route through the mid-1980s, increased radar, as well as opportunity, led them to shift operations toward Mexico. In the late 1980s, they expanded those routes to neighboring Guatemala.

So much cocaine was detected there by 1990 that DEA special agents coined Guatemala la bodega or “the warehouse.” Today up to 75{2ef06ca992448c50a258763a7da34b197719f7cbe0b72ffbdc84f980e5f312af} of the cocaine reaching the U.S. still passes through Mexico, but, according to the DEA, up to one-third of it is first received and stored across Mexico’s southern border in Guatemala.

Guatemala, like Colombia, has cooperated with the U.S. in both poppy eradication and cocaine interdiction. But in both countries this cooperation breaks down over prosecution or extradition of major suspects. “Extradition is the Achilles heel of this whole process,” says the DEA’s chief spokesman, James McGivney, in Washington, “whether it be Guatemala or Colombia.”

Unlike Colombia, Guatemala has an extradition treaty with the U.S. But Its Constitutional Court has only honored it in a few cases. The process is complicated by the fact that many major suspects are Guatemalan military officers.

In response, the Clinton administration has been willing to forgo prosecution of these cases. Why? One reason is to achieve cooperation with the military on other matters (the Guatemalan military receives no U.S. funding, but the police do). But the result only gives officers blanket impunity.

Lt. Col. Carlos Ochoa Ruiz was allegedly working with two Colombians from Call. Now wanted in federal court in Florida, Lt. Col. Ochoa is the first Guatemalan military officer against whom the DEA initiated prosecution. Back in October 1990, special agents watched him and others allegedly load cargo on a private plane, and then tracked it to Tampa.

The State Department requested his arrest and extradition. But one month later a Guatemalan judge released him. By 1992, two more civilian judges had ruled in his favor, while the military discharged Lt. Col. Ochoa and two Army captains also implicated in the case to put distance between them and the institution.

But that didn’t stop a military tribunal from unexpectedly reclaiming jurisdiction in 1993, and ruling to dismiss all proceedings in Guatemala for “lack of evidence.” The evidence in Tampa includes a half metric ton of cocaine. That’s worth about $7.5 million wholesale; retail it’s enough to fill a few million pipes with crack.

One judge who took the evidence into account was Epaminondas Gonzalez Dubon, the Constitutional Court president, and Guatemala’s highest justice. No other judge in memory was more independent. In May 1993, then President Jorge Serrano declared a “self-coup” and imposed martial law; Judge Gonzalez promptly declared it unconstitutional.

This helped galvanize both domestic and White House opposition, bringing down the “self-coup” one week later.

In March 1994, Judge Gonzalez made another independent ruling. “Gonzalez Dubon had signed a Court decision in which he declared [ex-Lt. Col. Ochoa’s] extradition constitutional,” reads a Human Rights Watch report. Judge Gonzalez then left Guatemala City with his family for an Easter day-trip. On their way back, in Guatemala City on April 1, four men in a car shot and killed Judge Gonzalez in front of his wife and son.

Police treated this, the slaying of Guatemala’s highest justice, as a common crime. Attorney General Ramses Cuestas claimed that it was an attempted car jacking, although no one stole anything. The surviving judges then declared ex-Lt. Col. Ochoa’s extradition unconstitutional, exhausting the State Department’s appeal.

This aborted the DEA’s most important test of whether the U.S. can prosecute a Guatemala military officer. How did the Clinton administration react? The U.S. ambassador, Marilyn McAfee, first ignored the denial, and then issued a press release, which concluded: “Unfortunately, there have been cases in which efforts to process suspected drug traffickers have been frustrated. Examples of these cases include that of Lt. Col. Ochoa, whose extradition was denied by the Constitutional Court, and the rejections for extradition of the American citizen, Carolyn Holly Fried, who has been accused of selling thousands of doses of illegal drugs to school-age children.”

According to Paul Mountain, supervising agent at the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, Ms. Fried is not accused of selling drugs to any children; and the same Constitutional Court that denied ex-Lt. Col. Ochoa’s extradition two months later approved Ms. Fried’s.

Last month, the Constitutional Court denied the extradition of another Guatemalan, this time a wealthy businessman, Roberto Antonio Beltranena Butalino. He is named as a defendant with ex-Lt. Col. Ochoa in Tampa. Ironically, this ruling was announced in Guatemala the same day that the State Department certified to Congress that Guatemala had “cooperated fully” in the war against drugs.

When asked to comment on these matters, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gelbard declined. Staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee say they will now review the administration’s handling of Guatemala.

More suspects remain untried, including six Army captains and two Air Force majors. Guatemala discharged all of them from active service over the DEA’s accusations. Yet, last year’s State Department drug control report, says: “in most cases, the officers continue on with their suspicious activities.”

The impact of cocaine trafficking in Guatemala, as in Colombia, is ripping its social fabric, already in shreds from four decades of Central America’s war. It was brave of Judge Gonzalez to say that the rule of law applies to all. But rather than back up the judge who backed up special agents, the Clinton administration has gone to unusual lengths to erase his memory. This only helps the Cali cartel and other Colombian drug traffickers. Threatening Colombia while coddling Guatemala won’t work.

Justify My War: Why Clinton Eyes Haiti’s Drug Trade and Ignores Guatemala’s

Original article found here.

While Bill Clinton’s White House invokes Haitian drug trafficking as a key rationale for invasion, it is continuing the Bush administration policy of virtually ignoring massive cocaine shipments — and related mass murders — by Guatemala’s military. U.S. officials on Friday said that they were investigating a possible drug indictment against two top Haitian officials, military leader General Raoul Cédras and police chief Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Michel Francois. But they are being far less aggressive toward Guatemala, which transships at least six times as much cocaine into this country than Haiti.

Like his predecessor, Clinton claims to have struggled against foreign governments and especially militaries involved in trafficking. President Bush used this pretext to invade Panama and later to put General Manuel Noriega on trial. Today the Clinton administration’s special adviser on Haiti, William Gray III, says that democracy, drugs and refugees — in that order — are its justifications for a possible invasion.

In May, Clinton administration officials began to say that the Haitian military’s involvement in cocaine trafficking was a threat to U.S. national security. Three weeks later, on June 8, The New York Times quoted unnamed administration sources “saying that the Haitian officers are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars each month for allowing their country to be used as a transshipment center by the main Colombian drug rings in Cali and Medellin.” But, the same day, when asked to elaborate by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gray declined, saying, “What type, size, who are involved, are] currently under review, and when that review is completed we’ll get back to you.”

On the contrary, the facts about Haiti’s role in the cocaine trade are already well known to State Department’s International Narcotics Matters (INM) bureau and DEA experts, including the DEA’s Miami Field Division Chief, Thomas Cash; all describe it as “relatively insignificant.” They say that before the export embargo was imposed last year, Haiti transshipped only between six and 12 metric tons of cocaine annually, much if not most of it to Europe.

While Clinton focuses drug attention on Haiti, vastly more cocaine pours into this country from Guatemala. INM and DEA experts say Guatemala today transships between 50 and 75 metric tons annually to the United States. Similarly, the largest single seizure of cocaine known to involve Haiti is the 160 pounds discovered in three unclaimed suitcases at JFK airport in New York in April 1992; the same month, authorities confiscated 6.7 metric tons — 14,740 pounds — of cocaine discovered inside cases of frozen Guatemalan broccoli in Miami.

This seizure led to the nearest arrest of Harold Ackerman, whom the DEA’s Cash described as “the Cali cartel’s ambassador to Miami.” He was working with confederates in Guatemala, where U.S. embassy press attaché Lee McClenny said, “the vast majority of cocaine trafficking is Cali cartel-related.” As has been widely reported, U.S. experts say the Cali cartel now controls at least 75 per cent of the world’s cocaine trade, and two-thirds of the cocaine entering the United States passes through either Mexico or Guatemala, on NAFTA’s southern border.

While federal prosecutors now try to indict Francois and, perhaps, Cédras, the DEA has implicated Guatemalan military officers of all ranks. They include one air force general, two air force majors, one army lieutenant colonel, and six army captains; the DEA has collected enough evidence against each to either recommend or take legal action. But because Guatemala’s military and the courts it controls protect them, not one officer has gone to trial. “Guatemalan military officers strongly suspected of trafficking in narcotics rarely face criminal prosecution,” reads this year’s INM International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. Instead the officers above were either expelled or retired from military service. But this is no deterrent. “In most cases, the officers continue on with their suspicious activities,” according to the INM report.

The DEA has even observed air force officers using military aircraft to smuggle cocaine. One suspect is General Carlos Pozuelos Villavicencio, the former air force commander. Last October, the State Department denied him an entry visa to the United States under the section of the U. S. immigration law that allows barring entrance to known narcotics traffickers. Another is Army Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Ochoa Ruiz, who, along with two army captains, was set up in a DEA sting way back in 1990. While agents watched, Ochoa and his men loaded a half metric ton of cocaine, worth $7.5 million wholesale, on board a private plane. It landed in Tampa, where Ochoa was later indicted by a U.S. grand jury.

But Guatemalan civilian courts have three times denied Ochoa’s extradition to stand trial. And although the evidence against him includes the half ton of seized cocaine, a military tribunal ruled last year to dismiss all charges for lack of evidence. Rather than demand his extradition, the Clinton administration doesn’t want anyone to know Ochoa’s still wanted. While not one Haitian military officer is currently charged in any U. S. court, Ochoa, an alleged multi-million-dollar trafficker, walks away from the U.S. indictment.

In addition to the above 10 officers implicated by the DEA, seven more officers, a town mayor currently being prosecuted in federal court in Brooklyn, and 19 other paramilitary “commissioners” under military control are accused of narcotics trafficking in legal testimony recorded by the office of Guatemala’s Human Fights Ombudsman. The charges include illegal detention and torture.

Guatemala’s army has the absolute worst human rights record in the hemisphere, and most of its victims are native Mayans. (On Friday, Guatemalan authorities said the charred bodies of 1000 men, women, and children had been found near the Mexican border.) Previous abuses include an estimated 40,000 people disappeared, and another 100,000 murdered, usually for their armed resistance or politics.

But today, Mayans are killed for greed. In Los Amates, near Guatemala’s Caribbean coast, dozens of Mayans, 32 of whom added both their thumbprints and signatures to the human rights testimony, claim local military and municipal authorities tortured three men before killing one of them, and then killed eight more people, including a mother and son. Their objective was to force them and hundreds of survivors off land that most of them have farmed for two generations. Why? To build clandestine runways to run drugs.

In January 1991, the ombudsman made a ruling on the initial charges of legal detention and torture, declaring them “proven”, and implicated, among others, colonel Luis Roberto Tobar Martinez, Colonel Baltazar Aldana Morales, Colonel Luis Arturo Isaac Rodriguez, Colonel Alfredo Garcia Gomez, Major Reyes, Captain Carlos Rene Solorzano, and Arnoldo Vargas Estrada, the ex-mayor of Zacapa. Vargas alone had just been indicted in Brooklyn on separate but related trafficking charges. The ombudsman also acknowledged that one of the tortured men had since been murdered, and then declared open a second investigation he never completed.

The ombudsman, Ramiro de Leon Carpio, is now Guatemala’s president. He was supported for the post by President Clinton a year ago in June, after Guatemala’s last civilian president tried to give himself — and his military — dictatorial powers in a “self-coup”. After it failed in the face of popular and foreign opposition, the military allowed De Leon to assume office. This year, in a letter to President Clinton, President De Leon promised to continue the ombudsman’s work and bring authorities who have “committed a crime or human rights violation” to justice. Nonetheless, the above case remains open.

Survivors say the runways were built from 1990 to 1992, when the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala was Thomas F Stroock. A quintessential political appointee, Stroock met George Bush at Yale, and later, as a successful oil magnate from Wyoming, was a major fundraiser for Bush’s presidential campaign. Throughout his term in Guatemala, Ambassador Stroock — who was replaced by 1993 — denied that the military, as an institution, was involved in cocaine trafficking. Similarly, today, the Clinton administration lists Guatemala as one of the countries “cooperating fully” with U.S. efforts against drug trafficking.

The first murder victim was Celedonio Perez. Along with about 8,000 other families, he lived among the five hamlets of Los Amates in eastern Guatemala, about 35 miles across the state line from Zacapa. There, in December 1990, the DEA broke up an operation that it charged “smuggled several tons of cocaine to the U.S. each month in tractor-trailers” overland through Mexico. This led to the arrest of Arnoldo Vargas Estrada, aka “Archie,” according to the Brooklyn grand jury indictment against him. “He was a real big fish,” said one U.S., expert. “The kind of guy who could order a guy killed.”

Vargas was a local paramilitary member of the Mano Blanco death squad since age 19, says one army lieutenant colonel. By the time Vargas became mayor of Zacapa in 1990, he owned a ranch house across the street from the army base. Vargas denies the charges of trafficking against him. His attorney, David Cooper, told the Voice: “If [any planes] landed in Zacapa, the only landing field was on the army base. ” Guatemala’s military attaché in Washington, Colonel Benjamin Godoy, denies that the Zacapa base was used to run drugs.

In Guatemala, according to the INM report, “All drug enforcement activities must be coordinated with military intelligence, which actively collects intelligence against traffickers.” Guatemalan military commanders deny that military intelligence would, instead, share information with traffickers, even if they included military officers and other officials. But according to peasants’ testimony around the same time that the DEA informed Guatemalan military intelligence that it sought to arrest Vargas, Vargas and his accomplices began forcing peasants off their land in Los Amates; five weeks later, after Vargas was finally arrested and his operation busted in Zacapa, local army authorities built more runways in Los Amates.

When Celedonio Perez resisted according to testimony, he and two other men were captured on November 18, 1990, “by the Commander and seven soldiers from the Los Amates military detachment,” who were “ordered by the Justice of the Peace.” Inside the detachment, the men claimed they were threatened and tortured by Army Lieutenant Maldonado and paramilitary authorities Byron Berganza and Baudilio Guzman who have “sufficient power and economic resources to dispose of the life and liberty of any peasant.” This claim of torture is supported by a signed doctor’s medical report as well as a photo of a man’s neck encircled by a pencil-thin laceration.

On January 6, 1991, one of the men was captured again, scaring him enough to make him and his family, finally flee their land. But Perez still resisted. Survivors say that on January 19, military authorities killed him. As word of his murder spread, many more frightened families fled Los Amates. With much of its land now cleared, the army stepped up construction of runways. But in April, after many were completed, military authorities began to target individuals, like Daniel Melgar, a tractor driver, who knew about them. “Since this man had worked on the construction of the clandestine runway owned by Francisco Villatuerte, he was assassinated by men I paid by narcotraffickers,” reads the I testimony, “and today that runway I is found camouflaged with tree trunks over it.”

Still, the public did not know what was happening, and survivors feared that they might be killed next. They decided to denounce the murders publicly. After pooling their funds, they took put an ad in Prensa Libre, one of three Guatemalan dailies. But nothing changed. Four days later, survivors claim the army killed two more peasants — “a mother and son on the shoulder of the highway CA-9 near the Seafood crossroad. This woman and he husband worked loading and unloading the planes of the narcotraffickers.”

A week later, in May, survivors took out another ad in Prensa Libre, and this time, “we mentioned the existence of the clandestine landing strips built by narcotraffickers.” Survivors also named five officials in the General Registry of Property whom they accuse of falsifying titles to “our lands that we have possessed for more than 50 years.” Still, nothing changed. The next day, military authorities killed another man, survivors claim, while three other peasants were falsely arrested for his murder. A month later, in June, survivors accused military authorities of murdering three more men, who had “worked guarding the finca (ranch) situated in the Palmilia property of Arnoldo Vargas Estrada.”

Later that month, in response to the newspaper ads, the head of the homicide department for the National Police, Jost Miguel Merida Escobar, and three other agents finally arrived. But rather than investigate the murders, “They lived for various days on the finca Rancho Maya of Byron Berganza and in the house of Baudilio Guzman where they were well-received, reads the testimony. Despite being explicitly informed about the clandestine runways, “these men forgot to make mention of them in their report.”

A month later, in July, another peasant was arrested by a group of soldiers and two police agents, this time on charges involving national security. Five days later, survivors claim, another group of military authorities assassinated another man.

Three more months passed before something happened that survivors thought might at last attract outside attention. On October 11, “before sunrise, one of the planes that transports cocaine crashed when it couldn’t, reach the runway on the finca Rancho Maya.” Guatemala’s national director of aeronautics came to investigate. But in his report, he said the plane was not headed for the finca, and that its crash was merely accidental. As a result, nothing changed, and the killings continued into 1992. Finally, in March, survivors decided to take their case to officials who they thought would listen, and addressed a copy of their testimony, from which all quotes above are taken, to “Señores D.E.A.”

While most of the killings were going on in 1991, that June, shortly after the two ads ran in Prensa Libre, a privately funded human rights delegation arrived in Guatemala City (this reporter was a member). It was led by U.S. Senator James Jeffords (Republican of Vermont) and Representative Jim McDermott (Democrat of Washington). Their report concludes, “One source said the military facilitates drug trafficking, especially cocaine, flown on small planes coming from other countries.

Non-American Western diplomats further confirmed to delegation members the Guatemalan military’s growing involvement with drugs.” Ambassador Stroock, however, denied it, saying that only a few officers were involved and that they had already been charged.

In a letter to The Progressive dated April 14, 1992, Stroock challenged: “if [anyone] has any evidence that any other army personnel are involved in drug smuggling, he should make that information available and we will act on it immediately.” But Stroock’s mission already had evidence on hand. Officials from the ombudsman’s office said they helped survivors deliver their petition to the U.S. Embassy on March 12, a month before Stroock’s letter. Press attaché McClenny later confirmed that the DEA received it.

This testimony was consistent with the DEA’s own case against Vargas, but its agents didn’t act on it, One possible reason is that, even if they did, it’s unlikely that they could have brought the officers responsible to trial. It took the United States 17 months of constant pressure to finally extradite Vargas, who, although he was linked to the military through death squads, was never a military officer. And almost four years of pressure to extradite Ochoa has failed. Now, once optimistic State Department officials no longer believe that the extradition of any current or former officer is possible.

Therefore, in Guatemala, the DEA measures success not by the number of arrests, but by the tonnage of cocaine interdicted. In July 1992, for example, DEA agents, heavily armed and rappelling from helicopters, seized 2.8 metric tons of cocaine from a small house in Jardines de San Lucas near Antigua. The DEA reports that the house “was rented to a Colombian male, his supposed wife, and his supposed young daughter,” and that it is owned by a retired Guatemalan air force captain. This seizure was then the largest in Guatemala to date, and, within a month, it led to a three-ton seizure in Guatemala City. No suspects have been arrested for either. Nonetheless, these operations are still considered successful because the seizure of 5.8 tons of cocaine, worth $87 million wholesale, more than doubled the DEA’s interdiction record for that year.

On drug matters, the most visible difference between Haiti and Guatemala is that Haiti no longer cooperates with the United States in interdiction, while Guatemala does. The result has given Guatemala in the 1990s the highest rate of interdiction of any Latin American country after Mexico, with between seven and 16 metric tons seized each year. But critics charge that this merely suggests that the amount of cocaine passing through Guatemala may be higher than estimated. The DEA maintains that anywhere else in Latin America, it is rare to interdict more than 10 percent of the total cocaine flow. For Guatemala, that would mean that the actual tonnage passing through is between 75 and 150 tons.

Indeed, Siglo Veintiuno, the Guatemalan daily that has given the most coverage to trafficking, reports “Regional experts indicate that the Cali cartel is well established in Guatemala and is able to transport more than 150 tons of cocaine through the country each year.” So much was passing through by November 1992 that a group of exporters organized a conference around the sole theme how to detect whether their products were being used to run drugs. These business leaders say that narcotics profits are both crowding out and taking over legitimate commerce.

But while newspapers can report these general trends, almost no information has been reported about who in Guatemala is behind it. Rony Sagastume, a national police detective, was appointed in September 1992 to lead an investigation to find out. An experienced professional, Sagastume also had a reputation for honesty. But the very day after his appointment, he was shot to death in his car by a death squad in Guatemala City.

Recent victims include journalists and their families. Hugo Arce is the editor of Nuestro Tiempo, a critical weekly in Guatemala City. In February, he and his 22-year-old nephew, a delivery worker, were arrested by police. Arce was released, while the nephew, in detention, sufffered broken ribs, kidney complications, swollen arms and legs, and could hardly walk. Similarly, diplomats and others suspect that a mob attack this March against June Weinstock, an American traveler, was engineered by the army it eventually drove most foreigners abroad. While Haiti formally expels its UN human rights monitors, Guatemala seems to have found another way of keeping meddlesome foreigners quiet.

Besides issuing a travel advisory about Guatemala after the attack on Weinstock, the Clinton administration has done little or nothing about anything else. The reason is that this administration, like previous ones, maintains that the mere presence of a civilian president in office denotes success.

Guatemala now has such a figurehead; Haiti does not.

A New Kingdom Of Cocaine: For Colombia’s Powerful Cali Cartel, the Crucial Connection Is Guatemala

The ignominious end of cocaine baron Pablo Escobar obscured the fact that his Medellin cartel had long since been eclipsed by another network of cocaine traffickers based in the Colombian city of Cali. The Cali cartel, led by the Rodriguez Orejuela family, is now said to control up to 85 percent of the world trade in the illicit drug. Two reasons for Cali’s success are clear: It has a reputation for eschewing violence and for distributing its profits widely. A third less often noted reason is that the cartel has established operations in Guatemala, a new safe haven for large cocaine shipments headed north.

Guatemala has become the largest warehouse for cocaine in Central America, according to Colombian and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration experts. Analysts at the DEA and the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics Matters now estimate that Guatemala serves as the trans-shipment point for 50 to 75 tons of cocaine a year. That’s a substantial portion of the 300 to 400 tons that reach the United States every year.

“The vast majority of cocaine trafficking in Guatemala is Cali cartel-related,” Lee McCIenny, U.S. Embassy press attaché, says. In July 1992, authorities found 2.8 metric tons of cocaine in a house near the Guatemalan town of Antigua. (A metric ton is equivalent of 2,200 pounds.) Three months earlier, in April 1992, drug enforcement authorities in Miami had searched a load of frozen broccoli that had been shipped from Guatemala. They found 6.7 tons of cocaine, enough to supply every user in the United States for a week. It was one of the five largest drug seizures in U.S. history. The seizure resulted in the arrest of Francisco Guzman, the brother-in-law of one of the cartel’s top leaders, and Harold Ackerman, whom the DEA describes as “the Cali cartel’s ambassador to Miami” and the highest-ranking Cali member ever arrested.

The cartel is more violent than its reputation suggests. According to Siglo Veintiuno, Guatemala’s most respected daily newspaper, the cartel was also responsible for the recent assassination of Rony Sagastume, a Guatemalan national police detective. Sagastume had just been assigned to investigate the cartel’s activities in Guatemala in September 1992 when he was shot while he sat in a car with two other passengers. Siglo Veintiuno reported that sources close to the police said that Sagastume had been terminated by a death squad of the Cali cartel that had arrived in Guatemala one day before.

Members of the Guatemalan officer corps have been implicated in the cocaine trade. The 2.8 tons seized in Antigua were found in a house owned, but not occupied, by a retired Air Force captain. In December 1990 Col. Carlos Ochoa Ruiz was arrested by Guatemalan authorities working with the U.S. DEA. He was later indicted by prosecutors in Tampa, Fla., for smuggling half a ton of cocaine into that city. DEA agents say that Ochoa was working for the Cali cartel.

Guatemala’s officer corps is a relative newcomer to the drug business. The Guatemalan military was previously known, not just in Central America but also around the world, for its record of massacres, torture, disappearances and assassinations. The killing reached its peak in 1982 when a campaign of unprecedented savagery in the Guatemalan countryside effectively crushed the country’s left-wing insurgency. The resulting political stability was one feature that attracted the Colombian cocaine cartels. They chose Guatemala, according to a Latin American drug enforcement official, “because it is near Mexico, which its an obvious entrance point to the U.S., and because the Mexicans have a long-established mafia. It is also a better transit and storage country than El Salvador because it offers more stability and was easier to control.”

The signs of drug trafficking are visible in the Guatemalan economy. “The traffickers have begun to buy property and invest large sums of money for the construction of runways and warehouses for the storage of drugs,” according to an assessment of the Colombian activity in Guatemala done by one country in the region. In the capital, the construction industry has been growing at least four times faster than the rest of the economy.

Some Guatemalan officials suggest that stable policies and a healthy investment climate are behind the boom. But legitimate business leaders say the stampede of cocaine profits threatens either to crowd them out or draw them in. The problem became so pervasive that a year ago a group of exporters organized a conference around an unprecedented theme: how to detect whether their products were being used to run drugs.

Guatemalan newspapers have reported the presence of the Cali cartel in the country but have printed hardly a word about the cartel’s local confederates. A group of Mayan peasants say they had the misfortune to stumble across Guatemalan drug trafficking first-hand. The peasants were farmers living in the village of Los Amates in eastern Guatemala. They allege that, beginning in November 1990, soldiers from a local military base tried to drive them off their land. The soldiers took three men to the base where, the peasants claim, they were beaten and tortured. One of the men filed a complaint with the country’s human rights ombudsman, including a doctor’s medical report on his injuries and photos of a pencil-thin laceration around the entire base of his neck.

Five more peasants from Los Amates filed a second complaint in March 1992. It alleges that nine people from their community were murdered by the local soldiers and provides the dates, times, circumstances, names and titles or military ranks of those allegedly responsible. Some of the statements charge that the killers were protecting a drug trafficking operation.

“On April 18, 1991, they [the soldiers] assassinated Mr. Daniel Melgar, a tractor driver. Since this man had worked on [and knew about] the construction of the clandestine runway owned by Francisco Villafuerte, these narcotraffickers paid assassins to kill him. [When not in use] the runway is camouflaged with logs strewn over it.”

The surviving peasants claim the army has built so many runways in and around Los Amates that it has “converted its five hamlets into warehouses for drugs.” The complaint names a total of 67 individuals as being responsible. They include four army colonels, a major, a captain and 20 military-appointed civilian commissioners.

Local army officers denied any involvement; the country’s minister of defense also denied any knowledge of human rights violations or cocaine trafficking in the area.

How credible were the peasants’ complaints? One suspect named in their complaints was Arnoldo Vargas Estrada, one of the military commissioners who later became the mayor of the nearby town of Zacapa. Apparently unbeknownst to the peasant witnesses, Vargas had already been indicted on drug charges in New York in 1991. A joint DEA-Guatemalan police operation had confiscated 1.8 tons of cocaine in Guatemala which led to the arrest of Vargas and nine other people. The suspects were charged with smuggling several tons per month by tractor-trailer through Mexico to the United States. Vargas was extradited to Brooklyn in May 1992 and is expected to come to trial next year.

There is no known link between the U.S. indictment of Vargas and the peasants’ complaints against him and local army officers. Likewise, the murders of nine peasants in Los Amates remain unsolved. And Lt. Col. Ochoa, still under indictment in Tampa, is a free man. The military court that dishonorably discharged him from the army also ordered that no further action be taken against him, due to “insufficient evidence.”

The Cali cartel is in no danger of being driven out of Guatemala.