Was that gun used in a crime? Now you can find out

On Sunday in New Orleans, Laderika Smith, 28, returned from the store to find her five-year-old daughter bloodied and lying on the bedroom floor with a gunshot wound to her head. The girl soon died. Her mother has been charged with Relative Cruelty to a Juvenile. She has not yet entered a plea.

“It is all too common,” Doctor Gary A. Smith, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance, told MSNBC. “Children are curious. They watch TV cartoons and a make-believe world,” he added. When kids see guns, “they don’t recognize the danger.”

Smith’s daughter fatally shot herself with a .38 revolver that her mother kept in the home, as Smith admitted to New Orleans police. For decades, a .38 revolver was the firearm most commonly used in crimes, according to ATF studies including a July 2000 report, which is the last time that the ATF issued any comprehensive report. Instead, for more than 12 years– since the first inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2001–the ATF has provided little or no such national data to the public.

“Why was it stopped for over 10 years?” ATF Acting Deputy Chief of Public Affairs Donna Sellers told MSNBC. “I cannot really answer why a decision was made to stop publishing that information,” she added. “The decision was made this year to increase transparency and provide the public with more thorough information on crime guns.”

On June 19, the ATF published its findings for Firearms Trace Data for 2012. Data for previous years posted on the ATF website’s statistics page include no more than very general information for each state along with the District of Columbia and U.S. Virgin Islands, making in difficult to discern national trends of the types of firearms used in crimes, or where they were bought.

The data for 2012 includes nationally aggregated summaries including “Firearms Types” and “Top Calibers” of weapons “Recovered and Traced” in crimes, along with data on where the weapons used in crimes were purchased and where they ended up, and how long they have been in circulation.

“Tracing crime guns provides critical information that assists domestic and international law enforcement,” Sellers told MSNBC.

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Guatemala’s Cycles of Crime

Original story found here.

Guatemala’s Cycles of Crime

January 13, 2012 – 6:06pm | World Policy Journal

By Frank Smyth

For Guatemala and its majority Mayan population time is repeating itself. A former military commander and intelligence chief with a bloody past promises to bring law and order to the Central American nation. Worried about rising crime and the increasingly violent penetration by Mexican drug cartels, voters elected Otto Pérez Molina as president.

The president-elect’s loyalties may be divided, however, between his promise to fight organized crime and the U.S.-backed institution to which he owes his career. His dilemma is rooted in the anti-communism shared by the two nations during the Cold War. Only by strengthening Guatemala’s long struggling civilian law enforcement and judicial institutions will the nation achieve stability. Unfortunately, Pérez Molina has already indicated his preference to rely instead on military force.

On January 14, Pérez Molina will become the first ex-military officer to assume Guatemala’s presidency since the end of military rule in 1986. But every elected government since has been marked by two trends. First, there’s the ongoing influence exercised by different and sometimes rival cliques of military intelligence officers. Second, there’s the endemic lawlessness that has given rise to violence and Guatemala’s increasing role as a transshipment and now also a production point for U.S.-bound illegal drugs.

With names like the “Brotherhood” (Cofradía) and the “Operators,” the intelligence cliques “developed their own vertical leader-subordinate network of recognition, relationships, and loyalties,” noted the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in a 1991 cable. The cable identified Pérez Molina as one of the “Operators,” and it credited the intelligence cliques for dramatic military successes during the Guatemalan Civil War in the 1980’s.

A U.N. truth commission later found the same military operations included “acts of genocide.” Concentrated in the Mayan highlands, these included targeting entire village populations suspected of supporting leftist guerrillas for annihilation. Internal Guatemalan Army documents show that Pérez Molina was an infantry commander in the Ixil triangle in 1982 during some of the most severe abuses. U.S. military documents from the mid-1990s, albeit with contradictory accounts, show him either disappearing or ordering the disappearance of Efraín Bámaca, the leftist guerrilla leader married to the Harvard-trained, U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury.  President-elect Molina, while declining to address specific allegations, denies any role in abuses.

The president-elect deserves some credit. He plans to keep, even if it is due to international pressure, the country’s current Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz. Unprecedentedly, and often working with international officials, she has arrested both military personnel for prior human rights crimes and suspected international drug bosses, including one alleged kingpin indicted in Tampa. She continues to investigate other abuses, too, including Bámaca’s disappearance after being captured. But more must be done to establish accountability and the rule of law.

Human rights groups fear the new government will usher in a new era of state-sponsored violence. The president-elect has named former Kaibil military commanders to lead the police and military. Kaibiles are elite military forces, who have been linked to some of the nation’s grisliest massacre, including the slaughter of over 200 civilians at Dos Erres in the remote, northern region of Petén in 1982. More recently ex-Kaibil soldiers have been linked to drug trafficking in collaboration with Mexico’s feared Zeta cartel, who themselves are former Mexican special forces soldiers turned drug lords. Leading Mexican analysts maintain it was the Guatemalan ex-Kabiles who taught the Zetas the use of decapitation as a terror tactic.

President-elect Molina and his cabinet say they will expand police and Kaibil operations in Guatemala, and lead a regional effort to share intelligence about organized crime. They might start with their own peers. Dozens of Guatemalan officers of all ranks have been formally accused of drug trafficking, according to U.S. government documents, dating back to before the end of Guatemala’s armed conflict.

Guatemala’s record of prosecuting its own drug kingpins lags far behind Mexico and Colombia. Not one Guatemalan was extradited on drug charges for well over a decade after the 1994 murder of Epaminondas González Dubón, the nation’s chief justice. The Clinton administration covered up the extradition case surrounding his murder.

His murder reveals the power of the intelligence cliques linked to the drug trade in Guatemala. Chief Justice Dubón led the nation’s Constitutional Court in a four-to-three vote in favor of extraditing Lt. Col. Carlos Ochoa Ruiz, according to court documents later cited by the Costa Rican daily La Nación. Nine days later, on April 1, as the family was returning from observing a Good Friday pageant, gunmen shot and killed Dubón near his home in his car in front of his wife and youngest son. On April 12, the same top court with a new chief justice quietly ruled not to extradite Ochoa. The State Department took four years before finally admitting in a few lines buried in a thick report to Congress that the chief justice’s assassination stopped the extradition of the Army lieutenant colonel over multi-ton level cocaine charges.

Since then, the nation’s importance to drug traffickers has only climbed.  The State Department reports that Guatemala is a midpoint for over 60 percent of all the South American cocaine reaching the United States, most of which then passes through Mexico. Guatemala is a transshipment point for heroin too. Recently, Mexican traffickers have started producing methamphetamine in Guatemala.

The Mexican cartels first moved into Guatemala to fight each other over who would emerge with the largest share of Guatemala’s huge cocaine export market. But Guatemala’s own cartels—who still primarily receive drugs from South America—have long been quieter than their Mexican counterparts. Classified U.S. cables obtained by WikiLeaks identify five major Guatemalan cartels that, for some reason, have rarely fought each other over territory or profits.

The U.S. has taken some action. The Bush Administration revoked the U.S. entry visas of two former Guatemalan intelligence chiefs over suspected drug trafficking. One, Francisco Ortega Menaldo, who publicly denied the accusation, is a longtime rival of Molina. But a decade ago, he was a frequent companion of then-President Alfonso Portillo, who is now facing extradition to New York to face money laundering charges.

However, the military intelligence cliques have hardly gone away. On 2010, a U.S. State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks read “A powerful group of former senior military officers known collectively as “The Brotherhood” (“La Cofradía,” suspected of narcotrafficking and other crimes), who colluded with then-President Portillo to embezzle millions from the state, might seek to murder him in order to ensure he does not collaborate with Guatemalan or U.S. authorities.”

Molina’s iron fist will no doubt drive out some Mexican traffickers. But only independent law enforcement will rescue Guatemala from its own powerful crime lords linked to the military intelligence cliques who have long enjoyed immunity from prosecution. Only by supporting civilian over military institutions could Molina move Guatemala forward. But, like many other retired intelligence officers, he has an interest in not exhuming the past.



Frank Smyth began his career reporting from El Salvador in the 1980s. He has covered Guatemala, Rwanda, Colombia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.  He has written for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Bush’s Brush with Latin America’s Drug Lords

Original story found here.

George W. Bush has embarked on the longest trip of his presidency to Latin America this week, a junket to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico that purports to advance social justice. His journey comes at a time when oil-rich Venezuela, under the radical populist President Hugo Chávez, has eclipsed the United States in bankrolling health and education programs to help the poor in Venezuela and other nations in the region.

But Bush’s trip also comes in the wake of evidence that organized crime has infiltrated the top law enforcement agencies of two nations on his travel itinerary. Each one, moreover, is playing a separate role in moving most of the cocaine reaching the United States. Last week the Bush Administration blamed Venezuela and Bolivia–another Andean country under another leftist president–for lacking the political will to combat drug traffickers. But the Administration has said little or nothing about the lack of political will to combat drug traffickers on the rightist side of the political spectrum in Colombia and, especially, Guatemala.

Fortunately, many drug suspects elsewhere in the region have already been held to account. Last month Mexico extradited fifteen fugitives, including one alleged kingpin, in what the US Drug Enforcement Administration said was an “unprecedented” and “priceless” step. Recently Colombia, too, has made what the DEA heralded as “record numbers” of extraditions, including that of a leftist guerrilla financier who was recently convicted of smuggling to our nation at least five kilograms of cocaine.

But Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has decided not to extradite rightist paramilitaries responsible for mass murders in Colombia and for trafficking tons of cocaine to the United States, saying he must offer the paramilitaries an amnesty to entice them to lay down their arms–even those belonging to what the State Department identifies as a paramilitary terrorist group. Why is Uribe so soft on paramilitaries? Last month two of his top officials fell from office over their alleged paramilitary ties, including the Colombian foreign minister, who resigned on February 19, and the nation’s top law enforcement intelligence director, who is now in jail.

The nation with the worst extradition record in the region, however, is Guatemala. This small republic just south of Mexico–“in our own backyard,” as the late President Ronald Reagan used to say–has recently become the trafficking conduit for between two-thirds and three-fourths of all the cocaine being trafficked to the United States from Colombia and other Andean nations, according to US agency estimates recently quoted in The New York Times and the Associated Press, respectively.

Guatemala has further failed to extradite even one Guatemalan on drug charges in more than a decade since the first Clinton Administration. Of course, no one would glean that from reading the State Department’s annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report to Congress. Somehow Foggy Bottom has failed to tell Capitol Hill that even though Guatemala has extradited several Guatemalans in recent years, the suspects in each case were wanted for isolated murder charges in different US states and not for international drug trafficking.

On March 7, I asked State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on camera if he could explain why the Bush Administration speaks so loudly about the good news on Mexican extraditions and not at all about the ongoing bad news on Guatemalan extraditions. A day later, in a lengthy statement, the State Department sidestepped the question, and then spun it, merely pointing out that last year one Guatemalan was extradited on “a narcotics-related murder.” Indeed, this suspect now faces a murder trial over a botched drug deal in California, US officials with knowledge of the case say, but this extradition has nothing to do with international trafficking.

The State Department’s misleading statement confirms an undeniable fact: The United States gave up trying to extradite Guatemalan drug suspects back in 1994 after the assassination of the Guatemalan chief justice. The State Department during the Clinton Administration inexplicably waited four years before finally acknowledging the motive behind his murder in a few lines buried in a thick report to Congress. DEA officials shamefully waited eleven years before finally acknowledging under pressure to The Texas Observer that “the judge deserves to be remembered and honored for trying to help establish democracy in Guatemala.”

Guatemalan Chief Justice Epaminondas González Dubon was gunned down in Guatemala City in front of his surviving wife and youngest child shortly after he stood up for DEA evidence in a US extradition case. The suspect was a Guatemalan Army lieutenant colonel accused of smuggling 500 kilograms of cocaine to Florida. On March 23, 1994, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, led by Judge Dubon, ruled to extradite the accused Army officer. Nine days later, the judge was murdered behind the wheel of his own car. Soon after the surviving justices, with a new court president, denied the extradition, changing the date and verdict but not the case number, as was first reported by the Costa Rican daily La Nacion to copy over the original ruling.

Since then drug trafficking through Guatemala has ballooned. In 2002, under pressure from its Republican allies in Congress, the Bush Administration finally told the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee the bad news. “Intelligence indicates that large amounts of cocaine are being transshipped through Guatemala with almost complete impunity,” former Reagan Administration official Otto Reich testified on behalf of the Bush Administration. “Few high-level figures are ever charged or even formally investigated for corruption, and fewer go to trial.”

The same year, the Bush Administration identified two suspects, Francisco Ortega Menaldo and Manual Antonio Callejas y Callejas. Each of these men is a former Guatemalan Army intelligence commander, and each one also briefly trained at the US School of the Americas, in 1976 and 1970, respectively. Both are credited in declassified US intelligence reports with “engineering” bloody counterinsurgency methods back in the early 1980s that a United Nations Truth Commission later said included “acts of genocide.” In 1996 a White House Intelligence Oversight Board report identified Ortega Menaldo as having a longstanding relationship with the CIA, although the Clinton Administration oversight board declined to say whether the Guatemalan general was merely an institutional liaison or a paid asset.

The State Department revoked the US entry visas of both these retired intelligence chiefs in 2002 over their suspected ties to drug trafficking. Ortega Menaldo publicly denied the accusations, while Callejas y Callejas never made any public comment. They are hardly Guatemala’s only drug suspects. Human rights groups maintain that a shadowy network of former intelligence operatives involved in various crimes has infiltrated the nation’s law enforcement institutions. In 2005, Guatemala’s top two US-trained antidrug police were arrested on drug charges after the DEA lured them to Virginia to get around the need to extradite them.

In February, Guatemalan authorities arrested the commander and three other officers from Guatemala’s top anti-organized crime agency over the brutal murders of three Salvadoran legislators and their driver in what Guatemalan President Oscar Berger said was a drug-related massacre. One week later the same four Guatemalan special policemen had their throats slit in their jail cells before each received a tiro de gracias–a final gunshot–to insure that they were dead. While midlevel Guatemalan authorities now say they suspect jailed youth gang members of having murdered the policemen, President Berger originally blamed organized crime hit men who somehow entered the prison.

It’s long been easy for US officials to blame drug trafficking on leftists of one kind or another. But both Colombia and Guatemala show organized crime is hardly exclusive to any particular Cold War-era ideology. Still, one may well argue that the so-called war on drugs is a futile effort bound to fail over time. But there is no doubt that organized crime, if left untouched, only continues to shred the fabric of its own nation. Murders per capita in Guatemala are now higher than in Colombia, according to the United Nations Development Program. Guatemala–flush with drug thugs–has also seen thousands of organized rapes and murders of young women in recent years, at a level higher than even northern Mexico.

President Bush is visiting Colombia and Guatemala at a time when drug corruption and corresponding violence in each nation is spilling over. If Bush wants to demonstrate the values of social justice that this nation purports to stand for, he can begin by demanding extradition for all suspects implicated in not only mass murders in their own nations but in running tons of drugs led by cocaine to ours. It’s also time for Congress, which purports to help oversee US drug control policies, to finally ask why rightist drug suspects in both Colombia and Guatemala were ignored for so long.

“Is Weller’s Beach an Ethics Breach?”


Jerry Weller, the 11th District representative who’s up for reelection in November, has some explaining to do. As I wrote in an August 25 cover story, “The Congressman and the Dictator’s Daughter,” he’s already raised questions about whether he has a conflict of interest because he’s refused to step down from the House of Representative’s influential Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere even though he’s married to Zury Rios Sosa, a third-term legislator in Guatemala. Since then, I’ve discovered that the congressman, a Republican whose district encompasses parts of the south suburbs, hasn’t revealed the value of any of the wedding gifts he and Sosa received when they were married two years ago in Guatemala. Such gifts are supposed to be listed on the publicly-available financial disclosure forms congressmen file every year, but the House Ethics Committee routinely grants waivers, and Weller got one. Still, his request raises questions, because Sosa is the daughter of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt and the second most powerful person in the party he heads, so lots of people may have wanted to give the couple something very nice.

More troubling, I’ve also learned that Weller owns several pieces of property in Nicaragua, some of which he’s disclosed to Congress as required by its rules—and some of which he apparently hasn’t.

Weller seems to have bought his first Nicaraguan lot four years ago, somewhere in the coastal township of San Juan del Sur, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Managua. Then a fifth-term congressman, he went to Nicaragua in January 2002 with other members of the House Ways and Means Committee to attend a presidential inauguration, and he seems to have bought the property sometime afterward. At the time land was still relatively cheap—Nicaragua’s the poorest nation in the hemisphere after Haiti. But cruise ships were already docking nearby, and investors had started buying up beachfront property. It’s not clear how much Weller paid for the undeveloped lot, but on his financial disclosure form, which congressmen are required to file by the Ethics in Government Act, he listed it in the assets section and checked the box indicating that it was worth $50,000 to $100,000.

Within a year, Weller had joined the House International Relations Committee and its western hemisphere subcommittee, whose main focus is Latin America. In August 2003, he and other committee members went to Guatemala to discuss issues such as expanding trade relations and curbing drug trafficking and money laundering, and that’s when he met Sosa. Eleven months later, they announced their engagement.

In the months before the announcement, Weller began shuffling his assets. According to his financial disclosure form for 2004, that January he bought a Chicago high-rise condo at 1335 S. Prairie worth $500,000 to $1 million, and in April, he sold a Capitol Hill rental property worth $250,000 to $500,000. Three days after that he bought a second undeveloped lot in Nicaragua’s San Juan del Sur township, this one on Coco Beach, a stunning stretch of white sand and surf. On the disclosure form he listed it as being worth $50,000 to $100,000.

Weller married Sosa that November, making him the first member of Congress ever to have a spouse serving in a foreign government. A month later, he wrote a letter to the House Ethics Committee asking for a waiver of the “financial rules for the reporting of gifts given in celebration of my November 20, 2004, wedding.” The Ethics in Government Act states that all gifts above a “minimal value” ($305 in 2005) must be reported. As the 1977 commission recommending the act’s rules wrote, “The objectives of financial disclosure are to inform the public . . . in order to increase public confidence in the integrity of government and to deter potential conflicts of interest.” The rules allow congressmen to ask for a waiver for wedding (and baby) gifts, though it’s not clear why, since if there’s ever a good time to butter up a congressman it’s his wedding day.

At any rate, waivers are usually requested before an event, and the rules note that requests made after an event “should include, at a minimum, a description of each gift for which a waiver is requested, including its market value, and the identity of the donor,” though this information isn’t made public. “Obviously if there is an extravagant gift of a large amount of money, the ethics committee should look at it and then decide whether it should be disclosed,” says Meredith McGehee, policy director of the nonpartisan watchdog group the Campaign Legal Center. Weller’s letter, which is public, doesn’t describe any gift, its value, or its donor. He could have provided a separate list of gifts, though current and former congressional staffers familiar with the workings of the ethics committee say the people who routinely review such lists never saw one from him.

In March 2005, the committee’s chairman, Republican Doc Hastings, and the ranking Democrat, Alan Mollohan, formally granted Weller a waiver. Spokesmen for both congressmen declined to comment. Written in the section of Weller’s 2004 disclosure form where gifts are to be listed is “none.”

According to his disclosure forms, in September 2005 Weller, by then vice chairman of the western hemisphere subcommittee, sold his Chicago condo and the next day bought a new home in Morris, his official residence in his district. And that December he bought another undeveloped lot on Coco Beach, which he listed on the forms as worth $50,000 to $100,000.

I couldn’t obtain any Nicaraguan records for the 2002 lot Weller bought, so it’s not clear how big it is or what exactly he paid, though on the disclosure form for 2004 he checked the box indicating that the property had gone up in value, to between $100,000 and $250,000. I did obtain records—all publicly available—for other Nicaraguan properties that bear his full name, Gerald Craig Weller, and passport number and list him as a U.S. citizen; one also states that his “legal residence is in the state of Illinois.”

According to the notarized bill of sale, the second lot Weller bought, in April 2004, was 13,029 square meters, for which he paid roughly $3,150 (or 24 cents a square meter). He listed it on his 2004 disclosure form as worth $50,000 to $100,000, and on the form he filed in May 2006 for 2005, he listed it as still worth the same amount. The notarized bill of sale and property title for the third lot—19,884 square meters bought in December 2005—show that he owns only a 50 percent interest in the land, having bought it with two partners. They paid $174,044 for the lot, or $8.75 a square meter, and Weller listed his share’s value as $50,000 to $100,000 on his disclosure form for the year.

Other documents, all from 2005, show that Weller bought two more lots in Nicaragua—neither of which is listed on his disclosure form for that year. A notarized bill of sale shows that Gerald Craig Weller—with the same passport number listed on documents for property he’s disclosed to Congress—bought a fourth lot, again on Coco Beach, in March 2005, a little over three months after his wedding.

Earlier this month I called the municipal office where property documents are held in San Juan del Sur and spoke to a man who works with expatriates and other foreigners buying land in the area. He said undeveloped land on Coco Beach was going for between $50 and $70 a square meter. I asked if the properties owned by Congressman Jerry Weller were worth the same, and he replied, “Yeah, more or less about that.” Local real estate agents told me undeveloped property on Coco Beach goes for up to $80 a square meter.

Using the low-end figure of $50 a square meter, the fourth lot, which is 7,960 square meters, would be worth $398,000 today. Another notarized property title shows Gerald Craig Weller buying a fifth lot in April 2005, another undeveloped parcel on Coco Beach totaling 1,200 square meters; at $50 a square meter it would be worth $60,000.

Yet another notarized property title shows that in February 2005 Gerald Craig Weller sold a sixth lot somewhere in the township of San Juan del Sur—there’s no indication of when it was bought or what he paid. It’s 1,699 square meters, so today it would be worth at least $85,000. No income from such a sale appears on the disclosure form Weller filed for that year or in the amended form he filed in August 2006, though the forms do note the sale of the parking spot that went with his Chicago condo.

Not disclosing information that’s required by the Ethics in Government Act isn’t wise. You can get hit with civil penalties of up to $11,000 and with further fines and up to five years in prison under the False Statements Accountability Act of 1996. Plenty of congressmen report the money they make buying and selling expensive pieces of property on their disclosure forms, so it’s hard to understand why Weller would have reported some of his purchases and sales but not others. He wouldn’t have had to report the three undisclosed properties if they were covered by a blind trust, but he checked the box saying he had no blind trusts in 2005. He wouldn’t necessarily have had to report them if they were owned by his wife, but the titles for the properties don’t mention her. And even if the lots had in some way been part of a wedding gift, they wouldn’t be covered by the waiver he got. As the ethics rules note, “The grant of a gift rule waiver by the Committee does not waive the requirement for reporting certain gifts on Schedule VI of one’s annual Financial Disclosure Statement.” Ken Gross, former associate general counsel of the Federal Election Commission and an expert on the Ethics in Government Act and Senate and House ethics rules, says, “There’s a schedule for reporting of gifts, and then there’s an asset schedule—and those are two different things.”

There may be a good reason three of Weller’s Nicaraguan lots don’t appear on his disclosure forms, but the only person who can say is Weller. I called his office last week to ask him to comment and wound up with his campaign manager, Steven Shearer. I explained I had reason to believe Weller owned more property in Nicaragua than he’d disclosed, and Shearer said he’d get me the number for Weller’s lawyer.

Having heard nothing, I called Shearer back on Monday and asked if Weller had any comment. “He has three properties down there and has filed three properties,” Shearer said, after again promising to get me the lawyer’s name and number. “But that’s it.”

“So beyond those properties, he’s denying that he owns any others?” I asked.

“That’s correct,” he replied.

I called Shearer back later that afternoon and said I wanted to be sure it was clear I had documents showing that Weller owned six properties, only three of which were listed on the disclosure forms.

“I wouldn’t know about that,” Shearer said. “His attorneys help him file his disclosure forms, and they’ll have to answer those questions.” He said he’d get me a name and number.

On Tuesday at 5:30 PM eastern time Shearer finally called and gave me the number of Jan Baran, of Wiley Rein & Fielding in Washington, D.C. Baran was still in his office. When I asked about Weller’s undisclosed properties he said he couldn’t comment because of the attorney-client privilege, adding, “I don’t know why Mr. Shearer would have referred you to me.”

El congresista y la hija del dictador

Jerry Weller buscaba por sexta vez una silla en el congreso por el estado de Illinois, cuando en Julio del 2004 anunció que estaba comprometido con Zury Ríos Sosa, una dura diputada del congreso guatemalteco e hija del conocido dictador, (general) Efraín Ríos Montt.

“Estoy feliz de haber encontrado a mi mejor amiga y alma gemela. Nuestro amor no conoce fronteras”, dijo Weller por medio de un comunicado de prensa. Y en el mismo comunicado, Zury también afirmaba: “Junto a Jerry, estoy comenzado una nueva primavera. Lo que admiro en su persona, es su responsabilidad, su entrega y su honestidad”.

Pero a pesar de su mutuo entendimiento, el anuncio del compromiso levanto una bandera roja: Jerry Weller, además de ser el primer congresista estadounidense en contraer nupcias con una miembro de un congreso nacional en el extranjero, también era miembro del Comité de Asuntos Internacionales, y la interrogante entonces fue la siguiente: Los votos dentro de sus dos puestos, se verían acaso influenciados por Zury?.

En Julio 12 de ese año, el editorial del Chicago Sun-Times aseveraba que el matrimonio “tiene el problema de la imagen que se estaría proyectando al resto de nuestros vecinos latinoamericanos, quienes fuera de la preocupación que la influencia de una esposa pueda ejercer sobre un miembro del Comité, ya de por si son unos grandes críticos de nuestras políticas”.

Y para agregar, al siguiente día, el Bloomington Pantagraph, el periódico mas grande en el distrito de Weller, publicó un editorial que decía que “en cualquier momento en que un congresista de los Estados Unidos con acceso y manejo de información confidencial e íntimamente involucrado con una figura clave dentro de una legislatura extranjera, cuyo padre ha sido acusado de genocidio, es algo de que preocuparse. Hay ciertas fronteras que un congresista debe de marcar en nombre de la seguridad de los Estados Unidos. No podemos decir que Weller ha cruzado esa línea, pero ciertamente anda de puntillas sobre ella”.

The Chicago Sun-Times sugirió que Weller, un republicano, mejor renunciara a su puesto dentro del Comité, mientras que su oponente en la carrera por la legislatura, Tari Renner, también le sugería lo mismo. Telly Lovelace, el portavoz de Weller, tuvo que decir al Pantagraph que el congresista no tenia intenciones de renunciar: “Si obviamente hay un conflicto, el congresista Weller hará lo que es apropiado”.

Los compromisos del congresista

En agosto del 2004, Weller se reunió con la junta editorial del Pantagraph, quienes sin citar directamente al congresista, afirmaron que éste les dijo que “se abstendría de legislar, específicamente en cuestiones relacionadas con Guatemala.

Lisa Haugaard, la directora ejecutiva del organismo sin afinidad política, Latin America Working Group, en Washington D.C., dijo para esa ocasión que la declaración del congresista “era moderadamente sin valor”, ya que según explico, cualquier asunto relacionado con Guatemala de seguro sería parte de una legislación mucho mas extensa. Weller tuvo entonces que acudir por asesoría al comité de ética, el cual, según The Associated Press, le comunicó que como congresista “tenia una obligación de votar sobre proyectos de ley, a menos que no tuviera un interés directo sobre el resultado”. Exactamente una norma no muy clara.

Y ahora, dos años después, Jerry Weller de 49 años y Zury Sosa de 38, están casados y tienen un hijo. Weller planea reelegirse en Noviembre y Zury todavía es una líder en el congreso guatemalteco por el FRG (Frente Revolucionario Guatemalteco) y con un puesto en el comité de relaciones internacionales, similar al comité de Weller. Dentro del FRG, fundado en 1989 por su padre, Zury es la segunda persona con más poder, y aunque hasta ahora nadie la acusado directamente, su partido está plagado con acusaciones de corrupción, lavado de dinero y ayudar a narcotraficantes. De alguna manera, su figura mejor ha servido para limpiar la imagen de su partido a través de la promoción de leyes en contra de la discriminación de las mujeres y personas con SIDA, así como en la protección de menores por medio de la regulación de publicidad de alcohol y tabaco. Además de esto , la congresista también ha promovido leyes que buscan disminuir el apoyo financiero que grupos terroristas puedan tener y controlar el contrabando, medidas que en cierta medida le han ayudado a las autoridades de Guatemala a embargar bienes tales como barcos y aviones de algunos narcotraficantes que huyen de la ley.

Lo que Weller se calla

En el 2005, Weller se convirtió en el vicepresidente del “Hemisphere Subcommitte”, el comité mas importante en el congreso estadounidense que tiene dentro de sus funciones el legislar sobre Latino América y “la guerra contra las drogas”, y la supervisión de esa política. “El subcomité (“Hemisphere Subcomitee”), es uno de los únicos que supervisa la política antidrogas de Estados Unidos, el más importante en crear esa política, además de tener una gran influencia”, dice Adam Isacson del grupo de monitoreo, “Center for International Policy”.

Los 16 miembros del subcomité también se enfocan sobre asuntos comerciales y la democracia en la región latinoamericana. Weller usualmente habla acerca de estos asuntos en lo que concierne al Caribe y Latino América, excepto Guatemala, y esto a pesar de que Guatemala tiene una población de 12 millones, un tercio de toda la población de Centro América. Weller por ejemplo, votó a favor de CAFTA, cuyo arreglo incluye a Guatemala, pero nunca habla específicamente de las posibilidades comerciales de la nación, así como tampoco habla de su democracia, la cual es muy frágil, y mucho menos tampoco habla acerca del lavado de dinero y el narcotráfico en Guatemala, a pesar del hecho de que un 70 por ciento de la droga que entra a Estados Unidos pasa por Guatemala, lo cual viene a levantar las dudas acerca de que si Weller está haciendo todo lo necesario para atender las preocupaciones de sus constituyentes.

La historia de Guatemala y Ríos Montt

En 2003, año en que Weller conoció a Zury, el FRG controlaba Guatemala, siendo presidente de la república para ese entonces, Alfonso Portillo, un claro aliado dentro de las filas “eferregistas” de Ríos Montt, el padre Zury. Las relaciones con los Estados Unidos estaban por el suelo para esos días, como ya lo vislumbraba una declaración en Octubre del 2002 del Asistente del Secretario de Estado, Otto Reich, dirigida al Subcomité, y que afirmaba: “Bajo todas las consideraciones, la corrupción está desenfrenada. El crimen organizado, en particular el tráfico de narcóticos y de ilegales, están creciendo, y Guatemala se ha convertido en la nación con más tránsito de drogas, y sin embargo las capturas e incautaciones han bajado. Pocas figuras de alto nivel son acusadas o formalmente investigadas por corrupción y llevadas a juicio. Grandes cantidades de cocaína pasan por Guatemala con gran impunidad y los traficantes tienen buenas conexiones con figuras de alto nivel del gobierno”. Al siguiente mes, la administración Bush avergonzó al gobierno Guatemala al negarle la visa al ex jefe de inteligencia tras acusarlo de narcotraficante, y luego en Enero del 2003, volvió a avergonzar a Guatemala al sacarla de la lista de países cooperantes en la lucha contra las drogas, siendo la primera vez que Guatemala fracasaba en ser parte de la lista y también la primera vez en ser “desertificada” junto a Haití y Myanmar, desde que en 1987 Los Estados Unidos iniciaran sus anuales evaluaciones.

Unos meses más tarde el diario Los Angeles Times reportó que el Departamento de Estado estimaba que unas 200 toneladas habían pasado por Guatemala en el 2002 (el triple al compararse con la década anterior) y que los incautamientos de cargamentos de cocaína habían bajado de 10 toneladas en 1999 a menos que tres: “El flujo ha convertido partes de Guatemala en zonas sin ley, cuyo tránsito es controlada por poderosos carteles de familias locales. Ahora, tanto oficiales antidrogas de Guatemala como de Estados Unidos, consideran que los traficantes colombianos han consolidado sus operaciones en Guatemala con la cooperación de actuales y ex funcionarios de gobierno”. Los Angeles Times citaron para ese entonces a un ex aliado de Ríos Montt que corría por en su contra durante las elecciones de Noviembre: “Si no nos cuidamos, nos vamos a convertir en otra Colombia. Lo que ha pasado aquí es que los narcotraficantes han infiltrado tanto el gobierno como al ejército”.

En mayo, el FRG había nombrado a Ríos Montt como su candidato a la presidencia en las elecciones de Noviembre. La posición de los Estados Unidos ante el hecho, a pesar de subestimada y diplomática, fue bien clara: “Tenemos esperanzas en nuestra capacidad de por trabajar, así como la de tener una relación tanto normal y amigable, con quien quiera que resulte ser el nuevo presidente de Guatemala……..Realmente, y a la luz de los antecedentes que rodean al señor Ríos Montt, sería un tanto difícil el tener tipo relación que deseamos”. Ríos Montt ya había sido presidente en 1982 gracias a un golpe militar. El ejército guatemalteco para ese año, estaba en guerra con la guerrilla izquierdista, a quienes venían combatiendo desde 1960. La guerra al fin finalizó en 1996 con un saldo final que se estima en 200,000 muertos, de los cuales, arriba de 70,000, fallecieron durante los 17 meses en que el General Ríos Montt estuvo en el poder cuando otro golpe militar lo despojara de la presidencia. Según la Comisión de la Verdad, los militares fueron los responsables de un 90 por ciento de la violencia. Montt intentó ser presidente en 1990, pero la constitución aprobada en 1985 prohibía a lideres de golpes de estado el ser candidatos a la presidencia. Cuatro años después (1994) ganó un puesto en el congreso, y en el mismo año trato de nuevo de nominarse candidato a la presidencia, pero las cortes del país le prohibieron proseguir. No fue sino hasta el 2003 cuando la obscura personalidad del General volvió a resurgir como candidato nuevamente.

La carrera política de Zury y la boda

Zury Ríos Sosa empezó su carrera política en 1989 haciendo relaciones públicas para el FRG y por primera vez fue elegida para el congreso durante la plataforma del partido en 1995. En el 2003 volvió a reelegirse para el puesto al mismo tiempo que dirigía la campaña de su padre, y en la que regularmente surgió como su principal apoyo afirmando que Guatemala necesitaba “una mano dura” y refiriéndose a él como su “inspiración”. Hasta ahora no se ha distanciado del sombrío récord de su padre, y tampoco ha denunciado los asesinatos cometidos durante su presidencia a principios de los 80s. Pero a mediados de Julio, una corte constitucional determinó que el General si podía ser candidato, afirmando que la ley contra los ex golpistas no podía ser aplicado retroactivamente. La Suprema Corte dijo que quería revisar el asunto, y el 24 de Julio, miles de seguidores de Ríos Montt se lanzaron a las calles armados con machetes y garrotes, procediendo a quemar vehículos, la quiebra de vidrios y rodearon edificios de la corte y la embajada estadounidense. Un reportero de la televisión local murió de un infarto cuando huía de una turba de seguidores de Ríos Montt que querían bañarlo con gasolina y quemarlo. Las violentas acciones parecían estar coordinadas y por horas ni la policía y ni los militares intervinieron. El Departamento de Estado acusó al FRG con proveer de tiendas de campañas y mercancías a sus simpatizantes, muchos de los cuales habían sido transportados la noche anterior por medio de buses. Delegados del FRG fueron fotografiados en medio de la muchedumbre, mientras que otras personas dijeron a algunos reporteros que Zury Sosa se encontraba con los manifestantes portando un “walkie-talkie”.

Unos días después, un periodista de Prensa Libre le preguntó a Zury:

–Periodista: Están los que dicen que usted fue la cerebro de los disturbios?.

–Zury: Quienes dicen eso?

–Periodista: “Unos analistas, y el día de ayer algunos medios publicaron sus puntos de vista”.

–Zury: “Por el momento no tengo ningún comentario”.

–Periodista: “Y en lo que respecta a los delegados del FRG que están involucrados y cuyas fotos han sido publicadas?”

–Zury: “No tengo ningún comentario”.

Cuando el reportero le pregunto de nuevo de que si era importante de que los guatemaltecos supieran la verdad sobre quienes habían sido los responsables de la violencia, ella le respondió: “ Cada día miles de personas mueren por causa del SIDA y tenemos 13 millones de huérfanos en el mundo. Eso es lo que realmente me preocupa”.

Dos semanas después, Jerry Weller arribó a Guatemala junto a otros tres miembros del Comité de Relaciones Internacionales (International Relations Comitte) para discutir sobre asuntos de comercio y el tráfico de drogas, y tuvo la oportunidad de conocer a Sosa por primera vez durante una recepción. “Desde el momento en que la vi, supe que había encontrado a la mujer más increíble”, afirmó Weller a los periodistas. Según se afirma, Weller le confió su personal intereses al embajador estadounidense, y al siguiente día, durante una cena patrocinada por el Comité de Relaciones Internaciones del congreso de Guatemala, del cual Zury era miembro, se vio sentado a la par de ella.

Weller describió su encuentro a la par de Zury como una cosa de gran suerte, pero según un funcionario de la embajada que estaba sentado en la misma afirma, “ello lo arregló así”.

En noviembre, mientras Jerry Weller y Zury Sosa se cortejaban a larga distancia, ella resultaba reelecta , y su padre, cuyo derecho a participar por la presidencia había sido reafirmado por una corte constitucional, conseguía menos del 17 por ciento , afirmándose que la violencia ocasionada por la turba le hizo perder las elecciones. Una coalición de partidos opuestos al FRG había ganado la presidencia y controlaba el congreso, y el FRG pasaba a convertirse en el más grande partido en la oposición.

Al siguiente Verano, Weller anunciaba su compromiso con Sosa y su portavoz confirmaba que sería el segundo matrimonio para ambos, pero no fue muy claro si Weller en realidad sabía que en lo que a Sosa concernía, se trataba de su cuarto matrimonio. De cualquier forma, un día después de que anunciaran su compromiso, los dos enviaron una petición a la Comisión Federal de Elección (Federal Election Comitte), preguntando si Zury (quién no tenía ninguna intención por abandonar su puesto, o de no buscar una ciudadanía o residencia permanente), podía tomar decisiones durante la campaña de reelección de Weller, así como el de solicitarle fondos y hablar en su favor.

La comisión les respondió que la ley prohibía a los extranjeros el donar fondos y participar en la toma de decisiones relacionadas con elecciones en Estados Unidos, pero que si ella trabajaba como voluntaria, sí podía entonces hacer discursos y solicitar fondos de ciudadanos estadounidenses y no otros.

Weller ganó en Noviembre del 2004 y luego viajó a Guatemala a contraer nupcias con Zury, y la boda se llevo a cabo en una villa de su padre en las afueras de la capital. Su padre estaba bajo arresto domiciliar acusado de incitar los disturbios de Julio, pero un juez le dio permiso de asistir a la ceremonia. Ríos Montt quedó libre de estos cargos el pasado Enero de este año, pero en Julio también del 2006, un juez español lo acusó de presuntos crímenes que datan desde los 80s, entre los que se incluye el genocidio.

Mientras tanto, Alfonso Portillo, después de huir del país, continua bajo investigación por cargos de enriquecimiento ilícito y altos miembros de su gobierno han sido encarcelados por cargos de corrupción.

Los pecados del congresista

Dos meses después de su matrimonio, Weller ignoró todos los llamados para que renunciara, y se convirtió en el presidente del “Western Hemisphere Subcommitte” . Y no es que no tenga otros intereses. Weller también es miembro “The International Relations Committee’s terrorism and nonproliferation subcommittee. Y su récord, del cual se encuentra muy orgulloso, abarca desde la abolición del ‘marriage-tax penalti (un tax impuesto a parejas estadounidenses que ganan casi un mismo salario), la redesarrollar el “Joliet Arsenal”, fundar clínicas para veteranos, y ejercer presión política para expandir el uso de combustibles alternativos.

En el 2004, Weller hizo pública una declaración diciendo que quería permanecer dentro del “Western Hemisphere Committe”, “para enfocarse en asuntos del narcotráfico y la aplicación internacional de la ley”, y su página web asevera que “El ha tomado un rol muy activo junto a agencias estadounidenses en el combate contra el narcotráfico”.

Sin embargo, Weller parece determinado a actuar como si Guatemala no existiera. En Enero del 2005 por ejemplo, el lideró una de delegación de nuevo personas a Colombia, Panama y Honduras, para discutir tratados comerciales y narcotráfico, y dijo “que el 90{2ef06ca992448c50a258763a7da34b197719f7cbe0b72ffbdc84f980e5f312af} de la cocaina, asi como la mitad de la heroína que llega a Illinois, proviene de Colombia y la región andina”. No mencionó a Guatemala, y esto a pesar de que funcionarios de la administración Bush dicen que la mayoria de la droga pasa por la nación centroamericana. Y en Mayo del 2005 ni siquiera hizo de la cuestión de las drogas en Guatemala, un asunto de importancia, y esto a pesar también de que en ese periodo habló sobre el problema de las drogas en términos generales: “Tenemos una tremenda preocupación acerca del narcotráfico a través de la región”.

Y no es como si el problema de las drogas en Guatemala haya desaparecido. En Septiembre del 2003 se puso de nuevo a Guatemala en la lista del Departamento de Estados de países que colaboran en la lucha contra las drogas, y el Ministro de Gobernación, Carlos Vielman dijo a Reuters “que podemos ver efectos similares en Guatemala como los que se dieron en Colombia desde 1985 a 1990”. Y el pasado otoño, el funcionario de la DEA, Michael O’Brien dijo algo similar: “Si ellos no cambian las cosas de cómo están, podrían llegar a tener una mini-Colombia”, y agregando que lo que Guatemala necesita son leyes fuertes contra el crimen organizado. Y el jefe del DEA, Michael Braun, dijo al Subcomité “que Guatemala es un gran punto de trasiego y sirve de gran bodega para almacenar todo la droga proveniente de Sur América en ruta a los Estados Unidos”. El reporte anual del Departamento de Estado en el 2006 afirmaba “que grandes envíos de droga continúan moviéndose a través de Guatemala por aire, tierra y mar”.

En Marzo de este año, durante una reunión del miembros del Subcomité, Weller dijo a funcionarios de la administración Bush, de que esperaban que se enfocaran sobre los problemas de corrupción en Venezuela, pero no ha hablado de la corrupción en Guatemala. Denunció a Venezuela por “albergar a grupos terroristas colombianos” que han asesinado a jueces, pero no denunció a Guatemala a pesar de que allí también se han asesinado a jueces y a funcionarios democráticamente electos. En esta primavera, uno de los lideres en el apoyo por una legislación para combatir el crimen organizado, Mario Pivaral, fue asesinado fuera del edificio del congreso. En Julio de este año, el congreso pasó la primera ley de la nación específicamente para el combate contra el crimen organizado y que permite monitorear las llamadas de sospechosos y desplegar agentes encubiertos.

Una minuciosa búsqueda “online” de récords del congreso y de reportes noticiosos durante los últimos tres años, dan casi nada de cosas que públicamente Weller pudo haber dicho acerca de Guatemala. Solo aparece citado en una comunicado de prensa que su esposa distribuyó en español y que dice: “Soy un republicano y creo que nuestros dos países deben trabajar juntos”. Weller no quiso hacer comentario alguno para este artículo, y en Enero del 2006 un reportero de la AP se quejó escribiendo de que “Weller rehusó repetidas solicitudes el impacto de su matrimonio en el congreso”. Otros miembros del Subcomité (“Western Hemisphere Comitte”), comentan acerca de Guatemala, incluyendo al congresista republicano Dan Burton, y quien el año pasado denunciara la “mafiosa justicia” del país.

Jerry Weller incluso piensa de que ni siquiera debería hablar acerca de las cosas buenas que han pasado en Guatemala, como lo es la legislación antiterrorista, y que su misma esposa ha promovido. “Hay algunas cosas positivas en el hemisferio. Algunos países como Panamá, Trinidad y Tobago, Jamaica, México y El Salvador, han hecho grandes esfuerzos de prevención y preparación en contra del terrorismo”, dijo Weller durante un testimonio del Subcomité. Pero sin embargo no dijo ni siquiera una palabra acerca de Guatemala, y esto que Guatemala se encuentra entre México y El Salvador.

Carlos Gómez de la Fundación por los Derechos Humanos de Guatemala basada en Chicago, afirma que el silencio de Weller le hace tanto daño a Estados Unidos como a Guatemala. “Si el Sr. Weller no tuviera una relación con Zury, estaría trabajando en contra del narcotráfico y el crimen organizado en Guatemala. Fue el FRG quién le abrió las puertas al narcotráfico y el crimen organizado en Guatemala, así que no puede atacar al mismo partido al que pertenece su esposa”, dijo Gómez.

Como cualquier político, Weller deberia de saber que no importa que tan confiado se sienta de servirle a sus constituyentes. Las apariencias cuentan y el silencio no ayuda.

** Este articulo fue publicado simultáneamente en el Chicago Reader**

Frank Smyth, un periodista con experiencia internacional en temas del narcotráfico y la guerra en Iraq, cubrió la guerra civil salvadoreña y es colaborador de Raíces. Traducción libre por Alex Renderos, miembro del equipo editor de Raíces.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Congressman and the Dictator’s Daughter

Jerry Weller was running for his sixth term as congressman from Illinois’ 11th District in July 2004 when he announced that he was engaged to Zury Rios Sosa, an outspoken third-term legislator in Guatemala’s congress and the daughter of former dictator General Efrain Rios Montt. “I am thrilled to have found my best friend and soulmate,” Weller stated in a press release. “Our love knows no boundaries.” In the same release Sosa said, “With Jerry, I am starting an eternal springtime. I admire his character, his commitment to his responsibilities, and his honesty.”

Their mutual admiration notwithstanding, the announcement raised a red flag. Weller, who would be the first congressman ever to marry a member of a foreign national legislature, sat on the International Relations Committee and its western hemisphere subcommittee–would his votes be influenced by Sosa?

In a July 12 editorial the Chicago Sun-Times said, “The problem is the image it conveys to our Latin American neighbors, who are critical enough of our policies without concerns about how a vote might have been influenced by a committee member’s wife.” The following day the Bloomington Pantagraph, the biggest paper in Weller’s district, ran an editorial that said, “Any time an elected U.S. representative privy to confidential information is intimately involved with a central figure in a foreign government–and one whose father has been accused of genocide within that country–there should be concern. . . . There are some boundaries that elected representatives have to draw in the name of U.S. security. We can’t say Weller has crossed that line, but he’s sure tiptoeing down it.”

The Sun-Times suggested that Weller, a Republican whose district includes parts of the south suburbs, resign from the committee. His opponent in the congressional race, Tari Renner, also called on him to give up the post. Weller’s spokesman, Telly Lovelace, told the Pantagraph the congressman had no intention of resigning. “If there is any obvious conflict,” Lovelace said, “Congressman Weller will do what’s appropriate.”

In late August 2004, Weller met with members of the Pantagraph’s editorial board; without quoting him directly, the paper said he’d told them he would “recuse himself from legislation . . . specific to Guatemala.” Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the nonpartisan Latin America Working Group in Washington, D.C., says that’s a “fairly meaningless statement,” explaining that any Guatemalan issue would almost surely be part of broader legislation. Weller also went to the House ethics committee for advice. According to the Associated Press, committee members told him he had “a duty to vote on bills unless he had a direct interest in the outcome”–not exactly a clear standard.

Two years later, Weller, who’s 49, and Sosa, who’s 38, are married and just had their first child. Weller is up for reelection in November. Sosa is still a leading member of Guatemala’s single-house, 158-member congress, and until earlier this year she sat on its foreign affairs committee, the counterpart to Weller’s committee. She’s the second most powerful person in her party, the Guatemalan Republican Front, or FRG, which was founded in 1989 by her father and is still led by him. It’s been plagued by accusations of corruption, money laundering, and helping drug traffickers, though no one’s accused her personally of any of those things. In many ways she’s the clean face of her party, having sponsored legislation to protect women and people with AIDS from discrimination and to protect children by regulating the advertising of tobacco and alcohol. She’s also sponsored legislation to curtail the financing of terrorists and to curb smuggling, allowing Guatemalan authorities to seize assets such as trucks, boats, and planes from drug runners.

In January 2005, Weller became vice chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, by far the most important committee in Congress writing legislation on Latin America and the war on drugs and overseeing U.S. policy on those issues. “The western hemisphere subcommittee has been one of the only ones overseeing U.S. drug policy, and it has been the main one making U.S. drug policy,” says Adam Isacson of the watchdog group Center for International Policy. “It has huge influence.” The 16-member committee also focuses on trade and democracy in the region.

Weller often talks about these issues as they relate to Caribbean and Latin American countries–but not Guatemala, even though it has 12.7 million people, a third of the population of Central America. He voted for CAFTA, the free-trade agreement that includes Guatemala, but he doesn’t talk about specific trade possibilities with that country. He also doesn’t talk about democracy in Guatemala, which is fragile at best, and he doesn’t talk about money laundering or drug trafficking there, even though up to 70 percent of the drugs that enter the U.S. come through Guatemala. All of which raises questions about whether he’s doing everything he can to address the concerns of his constituents. He’s painted himself into a corner, and he seems to be making no effort to get out.

In 2003, the year Weller met Sosa, Guatemala was controlled by the FRG, and the nation’s president was her father’s handpicked FRG ally, Alfonso Portillo. Relations with the U.S. had sunk to their lowest in years. “By all accounts corruption continues to run rampant in Guatemala,” Otto Reich, an assistant secretary of state, had told the western hemisphere subcommittee in October 2002. “Organized crime, in particular narcotics trafficking and alien smuggling, is increasing. Guatemala is a major and growing transit country for narcotics, yet seizures have dropped to practically nothing. . . . Few high-level figures are ever charged or even formally investigated for corruption, and fewer go to trial.” Reich also stated that “large amounts of cocaine are being transshipped through Guatemala with almost complete impunity” and noted that narcotics smugglers had “very close ties to the highest levels of government.” The following month the Bush administration embarrassed Guatemala by denying a former intelligence chief a visa and accusing him of drug trafficking.

In January 2003, the Bush administration embarrassed Guatemala again by dropping it from the State Department’s list of countries seen as cooperating in the fight against drug trafficking. It was the first time Guatemala had failed to make the list since the U.S. began doing annual evaluations in 1987, and it was one of only three countries decertified, the others being Haiti and Myanmar.

A few months later, the Los Angeles Times reported that State Department officials estimated 220 tons of cocaine had been shipped through Guatemala in 2002–triple the amount of a decade earlier and over two-thirds of the U.S. supply–and that seizures by the Guatemalan government had dropped from just under 10 tons in 1999 to less than 3 tons. The flow had “turned parts of Guatemala into lawless zones ruled by family-controlled transit cartels. . . . Now U.S. and Guatemalan anti-drug officials believe that Colombian drug traffickers have mostly consolidated their operations in Guatemala with the cooperation–or at least tolerance–of current and former Guatemalan government figures.” The Times quoted a former ally of General Rios Montt who was running against the FRG in the November election: “If we don’t watch out we could become another Colombia. What has happened here is that narco-traffickers have infiltrated the people in authority–both the army and the government.”

In May, the FRG nominated Rios Montt as its candidate for the presidency in the November elections. The U.S. view, though couched in understated diplomatese, was clear. “We would hope to be able to work with and have a normal, friendly relationship with whoever is the next president of Guatemala,” said the State Department’s Richard Boucher. “Realistically, in light of Mr. Rios Montt’s background, it would be difficult to have the kind of relationship that we would prefer.”

Rios Montt had been president before, having come to power in a military coup in 1982. The Guatemalan military was then at war with leftist rebels–they’d been fighting since 1960 and wouldn’t stop until 1996–and thousands of civilians were being murdered. During the war an estimated 200,000 people were killed, up to 70,000 of them during Rios Montt’s 17 months in office; he was overthrown in another coup. According to two truth commissions set up after the war, the military was responsible for over 90 percent of the violence. Rios Montt wanted to run again for president in 1990, but the constitution passed in 1985 barred former coup leaders from running. Four years later he ran for congress and won and was soon elected its head. When he tried to run for president that year the courts again barred him, but in 2003 he was back as a candidate.

Zury Rios Sosa, who’d started her political career in 1989 doing public relations for the FRG and was first elected to congress on the party’s slate in 1995, was running for reelection in 2003–and directing her father’s presidential campaign. She regularly stumped for him, saying Guatemala needed a “strong hand” and calling him her “inspiration.” (She hasn’t publicly distanced herself from his record or denounced the murders committed while he was president in the 80s.) In mid- July, the constitutional court ruled that this time Rios Montt could continue his campaign, saying the law against former coup leaders running couldn’t be applied retroactively. The country’s supreme court said it wanted to revisit the issue, and on July 24 thousands of his supporters, armed with clubs and machetes, poured into the streets of the capital, burning cars, smashing windows, and surrounding court buildings and the U.S. embassy. A TV reporter chased by Rios Montt supporters threatening to douse him with gasoline suffered a heart attack and died. The rioters’ actions seemed coordinated, and for hours neither the police nor the military intervened. The U.S. State Department accused the FRG of providing tents and other supplies to the demonstrators, many of whom had been bused in the night before.

FRG party delegates were photographed in the middle of the crowds, and some people told reporters they’d seen Sosa among the demonstrators with a walkietalkie. A few days later a Prensa Libre journalist asked her, “There are those who say you were the brains behind the disturbances. What do you say to that?”

“Who says that?” she said.

“Some analysts, and yesterday a morning daily published their views.”

“For the moment, I have no comment.”

“And with respect to the FRG party members involved and whose photographs have been published?”

“I don’t have any comment.” When the reporter asked if it was important that Guatemalans know who was responsible for the violence, she replied, “Every day thousands of people die of AIDS, and we have 13 million orphans in the world. This is what concerns me.”

Two weeks later, Jerry Weller arrived in Guatemala with three other members of the International Relations Committee to discuss trade and drug trafficking.

Weller saw Sosa for the first time at a reception the day he arrived. “From the moment I met her, I realized I had discovered the most incredible woman,” he later told journalists. He reportedly confided his interest to the U.S. ambassador, and the following evening he found himself sitting next to her at a state dinner sponsored by the Guatemalan congress’s foreign relations committee, of which she was a member. He later told Guatemalan reporters he saw it as luck, but an embassy official who was seated at the same table says, “She arranged it.”

In November, while she and Weller were courting long-distance, Sosa was reelected. Her father, whose right to run had been reaffirmed by the constitutional court a week after the July riots, got less than 17 percent of the vote, and the word was that the violence had cost him the election. A coalition of parties opposed to the FRG had won the presidency and now controlled the congress; the FRG had become Guatemala’s largest opposition party.

The following summer, Weller announced that he and Sosa were engaged. His spokesman said it would be the second marriage for both of them, and it’s not clear whether Weller knew this would actually be her fourth. At any rate, the day after they announced their engagement, they sent a petition to the Federal Election Commission asking if Sosa–who had no intention of resigning her seat, applying for U.S. citizenship, or becoming a permanent resident–could make decisions in Weller’s reelection campaign as well as solicit funds for him and speak on his behalf. The FEC said the law prohibited foreign nationals from donating funds or participating in decision making related to any U.S. election, but if she worked as a volunteer she could make speeches and ask for money, though only from Americans.

Weller won in November 2004, then flew to Guatemala, where he and Sosa were married in a villa her father owned outside the capital. Her father was under house arrest in the capital, charged with inciting the July riots, but a judge gave him permission to attend. (He was cleared of the charges this past January; in July a Spanish judge indicted him for alleged crimes, including genocide, dating back to the early 80s. Meanwhile Portillo, who remains under investigation on embezzlement charges, fled the country, and top officials from his administration were jailed on corruption charges.)

Two months after his marriage, Weller, ignoring calls for him to resign, became vice chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. It’s not that he doesn’t have plenty of other interests. He’s also on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and on the International Relations Committee’s terrorism and nonproliferation subcommittee. His record, of which he’s proud, covers a wide range of issues, from eliminating the marriage-tax penalty to redeveloping the Joliet Arsenal, establishing health clinics for veterans, creating tax incentives for companies to clean up brown-field sites, and lobbying to expand the use of alternative fuels.

In 2004, Weller released a statement saying he wanted to stay on the Subcomittee on the Western Hemisphere “to focus on narcotics trafficking and international law enforcement,” and his Web site states that he “has taken an active role with U.S. government agencies in combating narco-trafficking.” Yet he seems determined to act as if Guatemala doesn’t exist. In January 2005, he led a nine-day delegation to Colombia, Panama, and Honduras to discuss trade and drug trafficking, during which he said, “Almost 90 percent of the cocaine and one half the heroin that comes into Illinois comes from Colombia and the Andean region.” He didn’t mention Guatemala, though Bush administration officials say most of those drugs passed through it. He didn’t make drugs in Guatemala an issue that May either, though he spoke about drugs in general terms: “We have tremendous concerns about narco-trafficking through the region.”

It’s not like the problem in Guatemala has gone away. In September 2003, the country was put back on the State Department’s list of countries cooperating with the U.S. on trafficking, but last fall its interior minister, Carlos Vielmann, told Reuters, “We can see the effects in Guatemala similar to what happened in Colombia from 1985 to 1990.” Also last fall Michael O’Brien of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration made a similar point. “If they don’t change things they could have a mini-Colombia,” he said, adding that what Guatemala needed was a tough law against organized crime. And DEA chief Michael Braun told the western hemisphere subcommittee, “Guatemala is a major transshipment and storage point for South American drugs en route to the United States.” The State Department’s 2006 annual report to Congress on the war on drugs says, “Large shipments of cocaine continue to move though Guatemala by air, road, and sea.”

This March at a subcommittee meeting, Weller told Bush administration officials he hoped they would focus on corruption in Venezuela, but he hasn’t talked about corruption in Guatemala. He denounced Venezuela for sheltering Colombian “terrorist groups” who’d assassinated judges and elected officials, but he didn’t denounce Guatemala, even though judges and elected officials there have been assassinated too. This spring, one of the leading delegates backing legislation to fight organized crime, Mario Pivaral, was assassinated outside the building where the congress meets. (In July the congress passed the nation’s first law that specifically fights organized crime, allowing the government to tap suspects’ phone calls and put law enforcement agents undercover.)

A thorough search of online congressional records and news reports over the past three years turns up almost nothing Weller’s said publicly about Guatemala. He is quoted in a press release his wife distributed in Spanish in Guatemala City, saying, “I am a Republican and we believe our countries must work together.” He wouldn’t comment for this story, and in a January 2006 article an AP writer complained, “Weller refused repeated requests to discuss his marriage’s impact on his work in Congress.” Other members of the western hemisphere subcommittee talk about Guatemala, including the Republican chair, Dan Burton, who last year denounced “mob justice” in the country.

Weller clearly thinks he can’t even talk about anything good that’s happened in Guatemala, including the antiterrorism legislation sponsored by his wife. “There are some positive notes in this hemisphere,” he said during a subcommittee hearing in May. “Some countries, such as Panama, Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, Mexico, and El Salvador, have all made serious prevention and preparedness efforts” against terrorism. He didn’t say a word about Guatemala, which sits between Mexico and El Salvador.

Carlos Gomez, coordinator of the Chicago-based Foundation for Human Rights in Guatemala, thinks Weller’s silence hurts both the U.S. and Guatemala. “If he did not have a relationship with Zury he would be working against drug trafficking and organized crime in Guatemala,” he says. “It is the FRG that opened the door to drug trafficking and organized crime in Guatemala. So he can’t attack the same party as his wife.”

Like every politician, Weller must know that, no matter how confident he is that he’s serving his constituents fully, appearances matter. And silence doesn’t help.

The Untouchable Narco-State: Guatemala’s Army defies DEA

Original story including links to cited classified U.S. cables here.

(See also related links pegged to the release of this story by Harvard University’s and George Washington University’s National Security Archive:

The alert went out across the state this past July. A McAllen-based FBI analyst wrote a classified report that the Department of Homeland Security sent to U.S. Border Patrol agents throughout Texas. About 30 suspects who were once part of an elite unit of the Guatemalan special forces were training drug traffickers in paramilitary tactics just over the border from McAllen. The unit, called the Kaibiles after the Mayan prince Kaibil Balam, is one of the most fearsome military forces in Latin America, blamed for many of the massacres that occurred in Guatemala during its 36-year civil war. By September, Mexican authorities announced that they had arrested seven Guatemalan Kaibiles, including four “deserters” who were still listed by the Guatemalan Army as being on active duty.

Mexican authorities say the Kaibiles were meant to augment Las Zetas, a drug gang of soldiers-turned-hitmen drawn from Mexico’s own special forces. It’s logical that the Zetas would turn to their Guatemalan counterparts. In addition to being a neighbor, “Guatemala is the preferred transit point in Central America for onward shipment of cocaine to the United States,” the State Department has consistently reported to Congress since 1999. In early November, anti-drug authorities at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala told the Associated Press that 75 percent of the cocaine that reaches American soil passes through the Central American nation.

More importantly, perhaps, the dominant institution in the country—the military—is linked to this illicit trade. Over the past two decades, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has quietly accused Guatemalan military officers of all ranks in every branch of service of trafficking drugs to the United States, according to government documents obtained by The Texas Observer. More recently, the Bush administration has alleged that two retired Guatemalan Army generals, at the top of the country’s military hierarchy, are involved in drug trafficking and has revoked their U.S. visas based on these allegations.

The retired generals, Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas and Francisco Ortega Menaldo, are Guatemala’s former top two intelligence chiefs. They are also among the founders of an elite, shadowy club within Guatemala’s intelligence command that calls itself “la cofradía” or “the brotherhood,” according to U.S. intelligence reports. The U.S. reports, recently de-classified, credit la cofradía with “engineering” tactics that roundly defeated Guatemala’s Marxist guerrillas. A U.N. Truth Commission later found the same tactics included “acts of genocide” for driving out or massacring the populations of no less than 440 Mayan villages.

Guatemala’s military intelligence commands developed a code of silence during these bloody operations, which is one reason why no officer was ever prosecuted for any Cold War-era human rights abuses. Since then, the same intelligence commands have turned their clandestine structures to organized crimes, according to DEA and other U.S. intelligence reports, from importing stolen U.S. cars to running drugs to the United States. Yet not one officer has ever been prosecuted for any international crime in either Guatemala or the United States.

There is enough evidence implicating the Guatemalan military in illegal activities that the Bush administration no longer gives U.S. military aid, including officer training. The cited offenses include “a recent resurgence of abuses believed to be orchestrated by ex-military and current military officials; and allegations of corruption and narcotics trafficking by ex-military officers,” according to the State Department’s 2004 report on Foreign Military Training.

While some in the Bush administration and Congress want to restart foreign military training, others are concerned about the inability of the Guatemalan government to rein in its military. “The reason that elements of the army are involved so deeply in this illicit operation is that the government simply does not have the power to stop them,” said Texas Republican Congressman Michael McCaul, who sits on the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the Committee on International Relations and is the Chairman of the Department of Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations.

Guatemala is hardly the first military tainted by drugs; senior intelligence and law enforcement officers in many Latin American nations have been found colluding with organized crime. But what distinguishes Guatemala from most other nations is that some of its military suspects are accused not only of protecting large criminal syndicates but of being the ringleaders behind them. The Bush administration has recently credited both Colombia and Mexico with making unprecedented strides in both prosecuting their own drug suspects and extraditing others to the United States. But Guatemala, alone in this hemisphere, has failed to either prosecute or extradite any of its own alleged drug kingpins for at least 10 years.

For decades, successive U.S. administrations have tried and failed to train effective Guatemalan police, while saying little or nothing about the known criminal activities of the Guatemalan military. That finally came to an end in the past three years under Republican Rep. Cass Ballenger, a staunch conservative from North Carolina, who served as chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.

“Clearly, the Guatemalan government has not taken every step needed to investigate, arrest, and bring drug kingpins to justice,” said then-Chairman Ballenger in 2003 before he retired. Echoing his predecessor, the new Chairman, Indiana Republican Rep. Dan Burton, commented through a spokesman that he wants to see the same alleged ringleaders finally brought “to full accountability.”

Until that happens, drugs from Guatemala and the attendant violence will continue to spill over the Texas border.

Guatemala has long been sluggish in efforts to take legal action against its military officers for human rights violations. That impunity has since spread to organized criminal acts as well. The turning point came in 1994, when Guatemala’s extraditions of its drug suspects came to a dead stop over a case involving an active duty army officer. The case highlights both the terrible price for those who seek justice in Guatemala and the timidity of the United States in demanding accountability.

A military intelligence officer back in the early 1980s, Lt. Col. Carlos Ochoa briefly trained at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in 1988. Two years later, the DEA accused him of smuggling drugs to locations including Florida, where DEA special agents seized a small plane with half a metric ton of cocaine, allegedly sent by the colonel.

State Department attorneys worked for more than three years to keep Guatemala’s military tribunals from dismissing the charges, and finally brought Ochoa’s extradition case all the way to Guatemala’s highest civilian court. The nation’s chief justice, Epaminondas González Dubón, was already well respected for his integrity. On March 23, 1994, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, led by González Dubón, quietly ruled in a closed session (which is common in Guatemala) four-to-three in favor of extraditing Ochoa.

Nine days later, on April 1, gunmen shot and killed González Dubón behind the wheel of his own car in the capital, near his middle-class home, in front of his wife and youngest son. On April 12, the same Constitutional Court, with a new chief justice, quietly ruled seven-to-one not to extradite Ochoa. The surviving judges used the same line in the official Constitutional Court register—changing the verdict and date, but not the original case number—to literally copy over the original ruling, as was only reported years later by the Costa Rican daily, La Nación.

The Clinton administration never said one word in protest. The U.S. ambassador in Guatemala City at the time, Marilyn McAfee, by her own admission had other concerns, including ongoing peace talks with the Guatemalan military. “I am concerned over the potential decline in our relationship with the military,” she wrote to her superiors only months before the assassination. “The bottom line is we must carefully consider each of our actions toward the Guatemalan military, not only for how it plays in Washington, but for how it impacts here.”

Four years after the murder, the Clinton administration finally admitted in a few lines buried in a thick report to Congress: “The Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court had approved [the] extradition for the 1991 charges just before he was assassinated. The reconstituted court soon thereafter voted to deny the extradition.”

Ochoa may not have been working alone. “In addition to his narcotics trafficking activities, Ochoa was involved in bringing stolen cars from the U.S. to Guatemala,” reads a “SECRET” U.S. intelligence report obtained by U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury. “Another military officer involved with Ochoa in narcotics trafficking is Colonel Julio Roberto Alpírez de Leon.”

Alpírez, who briefly trained at the U.S. School of the Americas in 1970, served “in special intelligence operations,” according to a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report. A White House Oversight Board investigation later implicated him in the torture and murder of a Marxist guerrilla leader who was married to the Harvard-trained lawyer Harbury, and in the torture and mysterious decapitation of an American hotelier named Michael Devine. Col. Alpírez, since retired, has denied any wrongdoing and he was never charged with any crime.

But Ochoa, his former subordinate, is in jail today. Ochoa was arrested—again—for local cocaine dealing in Guatemala City, where crack smoking and violent crimes, especially rape, have become alarmingly common. Ochoa was later sentenced to 14 years in prison, and he remains the most important drug criminal ever convicted in Guatemala to date.

Until now, the DEA had never publicly recognized the bravery of Judge González Dubón, who died defending DEA evidence. “The judge deserves to be remembered and honored for trying to help establish democracy in Guatemala,” said DEA senior special agent William Glaspy in an exclusive interview. Since the murder, the DEA has been all but impotent in Guatemala.

The impunity that shields Guatemalan military officers from justice for criminal offenses started during the Cold War. “There is a long history of impunity in Guatemala,” noted Congressman William Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, who is also a member of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. “The United States has contributed to it in a very unsavory way dating back to 1954, and also in the 1980s,” he added, referring to a CIA-backed coup d’état in 1954, which overturned a democratically elected president and brought the Guatemalan military to power, and to the Reagan administration’s covert backing of the Guatemalan military at a time when bloodshed against Guatemalan civilians was peaking.

It was also during this Cold War-era carnage that the army’s la cofradía came into its own.

“The mere mention of the word ‘cofradía’ inside the institution conjures up the idea of the ‘intelligence club,’ the term ‘cofradía’ being the name given to the powerful organizations of village-church elders that exist today in the Indian highlands of Guatemala,” reads a once-classified 1991 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency cable. “Many of the ‘best and the brightest’ of the officers of the Guatemalan Army were brought into intelligence work and into tactical operations planning,” it continues. Like all documents not otherwise attributed in this report, the cable was obtained by the non-profit National Security Archives in Washington, D.C.

According to the 1991 cable, “well-known members of this unofficial cofradía include” then army colonels “Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas” and “Ortega Menaldo.” (Each officer had briefly trained at the U.S. School of the Americas, in 1970 and 1976, respectively.)

The intelligence report goes on: “Under directors of intelligence such as then-Col. Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas back in the early 1980s, the intelligence directorate made dramatic gains in its capabilities, so much so that today it must be given the credit for engineering the military decline of the guerrillas from 1982 to the present. But while doing so, the intelligence directorate became an elite ‘club’ within the officer corps.”

Other Guatemalan officers called their approach at the time the practice of “draining the sea to kill the fish,” or of attacking civilians suspected of supporting leftist guerrillas instead of the armed combatants themselves. One former Guatemalan Army sergeant, who served in the bloodied province of Quiché, later told this author he learned another expression: “Making the innocent pay for the sins of the guilty.”

CIA reports are even more candid. “The commanding officers of the units involved have been instructed to destroy all towns and villages which are cooperating with the guerrilla[s] and eliminate all sources of resistance,” reads one 1982 Guatemala City CIA Station report formerly classified “SECRET.” The CIA report goes on, “When an Army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed.” Forensic teams have since exhumed many mass graves. Some unearthed women and infants. More than 200,000 people were killed in Guatemala in what stands as Central America’s bloodiest conflict during the Cold War.

The violence left the military firmly in control of Guatemala, and it did not take long for this stability to catch the attention of Colombian drug syndicates. First the Medellín and then the Cali cartels, according to Andean drug experts, began searching for new smuggling routes to the United States after their more traditional routes closed down by the mid-1980s due to greater U.S. radar surveillance over the Caribbean, especially the Bahamas.

“They chose Guatemala because it is near Mexico, which is an obvious entrance point to the U.S., and because the Mexicans have a long-established mafia,” explained one Andean law enforcement expert. “It is also a better transit and storage country than El Salvador because it offers more stability and was easier to control.”

DEA special agents began detecting Guatemalan military officers running drugs as early as 1986, according to DEA documents obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. That’s when Ortega Menaldo took over from Callejas y Callejas as Guatemala’s military intelligence chief. Over the next nine years, according to the same U.S. documents, DEA special agents detected no less than 31 active duty officers running drugs.

“All roads lead to Ortega,” a U.S. drug enforcement expert said recently. “Even current active-duty officers may have other ties with retired officers. They have a mentor relationship.”

U.S. intelligence reports reveal the strong ties that cofradía high-level officers cultivated with many subordinates, who are dubbed “the operators.” “This vertical column of intelligence officers, from captains to generals, represents the strongest internal network of loyalties within the institution,” reads the 1991 U.S. DIA cable. “Other capable officers were being handpicked at all levels to serve in key operations and troop command,” this U.S. report goes on. “Although not as tight knit as the cofradía, the ‘operators’ all the same developed their own vertical leader-subordinate network of recognition, relationships and loyalties, and are today considered a separate and distinct vertical column of officer loyalties.”

Cofradía officers extended their reach even further, according to another U.S. intelligence cable, as the mid-level officer “operators” whom they chose in turn handpicked local civilians to serve as “military commissioners [to be] the ‘eyes and ears’ of the military” at the grassroots.

Few criminal cases better demonstrate the integration between the Guatemalan intelligence commands and drug trafficking than one pursued in 1990 by DEA special agents in the hot, sticky plains of eastern Guatemala, near the nation’s Caribbean coast. This 15-year-old case is also the last time that any Guatemalans wanted on drug charges were extradited to the United States. Arnoldo Vargas Estrada, a.k.a. “Archie,” was a long-time local “military commissioner,” and the elected mayor of the large town of Zacapa. U.S. embassy officials informed (as is still required according to diplomatic protocol between the two nations) Guatemalan military intelligence, then led by Ortega Menaldo, that DEA special agents had the town mayor under surveillance.

Vargas and two other civilian suspects were then arrested in Guatemala with the help of the DEA. Not long after, all three men were extradited to New York, where they were tried and convicted on DEA evidence. But the DEA did nothing back in Guatemala when, shortly after the arrests, the military merely moved the same smuggling operation to a rural area outside town, according to family farmers in a petition delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City in 1992 and addressed simply “Señores D.E.A.”

“[B]efore sunrise, one of the planes that transports cocaine crashed when it couldn’t reach the runway on the Rancho Maya,” reads the document which the peasants either signed or inked with their thumbprints. The document names the military commissioners along with seven local officers, including four local army colonels whom the farmers said supervised them.

One of the civilian military commissioners the peasants named was Rancho Maya owner Byron Berganza. More than a decade later, in 2004, DEA special agents finally arrested Berganza, along with another Guatemalan civilian, on federal “narcotics importation conspiracy” charges in New York City. Last year, the DEA in Mexico City also helped arrest another Guatemalan, Otto Herrera, who ran a vast trucking fleet from the Zacapa area. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft described Herrera as one of “the most significant international drug traffickers and money launderers in the world.”

Yet, not long after his arrest, Herrera somehow managed to escape from jail in Mexico City. Not one of the Guatemalan military officers the farmers mentioned in their 1992 petition has ever been charged. As the DEA’s Senior Special Agent Glaspy explained, “There is a difference between receiving information and being able to prosecute somebody.”

In 2002, then-Chairman Ballenger forced the Bush administration to take limited action to penalize top Guatemalan military officials thought to be involved in drug trafficking. “The visa of former Guatemalan intelligence chief Francisco Ortega Menaldo was revoked,” confirmed State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher in March 2002, “under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act related to narco-trafficking, and that’s about as far as I can go into the details of the decision.”

By then, Ret. Gen. Ortega Menaldo had already denied the U.S. drug charges, while reminding reporters in Guatemala City that he had previously collaborated with both the CIA and the DEA dating back to the 1980s. Indeed, a White House Intelligence Oversight Board has already confirmed that both the CIA and the DEA maintained at least a liaison relationship with Guatemalan military intelligence in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it was run by Col. Ortega Menaldo.

The CIA, through spokesman Mark Mansfield, declined all comment for this article.

Eight months after revoking Ortega Menaldo’s visa, the Bush administration again cited suspected drug trafficking to revoke the U.S. entry visa of another Guatemalan intelligence chief, Ret. Gen. Callejas y Callejas. But after the news broke in the Guatemalan press, this cofradía officer never responded publicly, as Ortega Menaldo did, to the U.S. drug allegation.

Rather than confront the impunity that allows Guatemalan military officers to traffic drugs, many of the country’s elected officials seem to be going in the opposite direction. Not long after the Bush administration named the two retired cofradía intelligence chiefs as suspected drug traffickers, members of the Guatemalan Republican Front, or FRG party, which was founded by another retired army general, introduced legislation in the Guatemalan Congress that would remove civilian oversight over the military in criminal justice matters.

Throughout the Cold War period, Guatemala’s civil justice system seldom had the opportunity to try officers for any crime. Instead officials submitted themselves to military tribunals. In the 1990s, civilian courts began for the first time tentatively to exert their authority to process military officers for crimes like drug trafficking. But the proposed legislation stipulates that any officer, whether active duty or retired, may only be tried in a military tribunal, no matter what the alleged crime. A court martial is normally reserved for crimes allegedly committed by military personnel in the course of their service. If this law is passed, however, it would ensure that Guatemalan officers accused of any crime, from murder to drug trafficking, could once again only be tried by their military peers.

“This would be a new mechanism of impunity,” noted José Zeitune of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists and author of a 2005 report on the Guatemalan judiciary.

As Chairman, Ballenger accused the FRG party, which enjoys a plurality in the Guatemalan Congress, of drug corruption. The FRG was founded by Ret. Gen. Efrain Ríos Montt. A controversial figure, he launched a coup d’etat in 1982 to become president of Guatemala just as the intelligence officers of la cofradía were rising.

The new vice-chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee is Jerry Weller III, a Republican from Illinois. He recently married Zury Ríos Sosa, who is Ret. Gen. Montt’s daughter. Unlike other members of the Subcommittee, Weller, through his spokesman, Telly Lovelace, declined all comment for this article.

Congressman Weller’s father-in-law groomed Guatemala’s last president, an FRG member named Alfonso Portillo, who fled the country in 2004 to escape his own arrest for alleged money laundering, according to a State Department report. During President Portillo’s tenure, one of his closest companions inside the National Palace was the cofradía co-founder Ortega Menaldo, according to Guatemalan press accounts.

Today the shadowy structures of Guatemala’s intelligence commands are so embedded with organized crime that the Bush administration, for one, is already calling on the United Nations. Putting aside its usual criticisms of the international body, the administration supports a proposal to form a U.N.-led task force explicitly called the “Commission for the Investigation of Illegal Armed Groups and Clandestine Security Apparatus” in Guatemala. So far the only nation to yield its sovereignty to allow the United Nations a similar role is Lebanon, where U.N. investigators are digging into the murder of a former prime minister.

The proposed U.N. plan for Guatemala also enjoys the support of its new president, Oscar Berger, a wealthy landowner and lawyer who is well respected by the U.S. administration. But the proposed U.N. Commission is encountering resistance from FRG politicians like Weller’s wife, Ríos Sosa, who is also an FRG congresswoman.

So what are U.S. officials and Guatemalan authorities doing to stop the military officers involved in drug trafficking?

“In terms of public corruption against both the army and others, [Guatemalan authorities] have a number of investigations underway, right now,” then-Assistant Secretary Robert B. Charles said earlier this year at a State Department press conference. But, in keeping with past practices, not one of these suspected officers has been charged in either Guatemala or the United States.

More troubling still is a recent case involving those Mexican soldiers-turned-hitmen, the Zetas. This past October 22, seven members of the Zetas were arrested in a Guatemalan border town with weapons and cocaine. The Associated Press reported that, according to Guatemalan authorities, the Zetas came to avenge one of their members who had been killed in Guatemala. Despite the evidence against the men, a little more than a week after their arrests, Guatemalan authorities inexplicably set them free.

Frank Smyth is a freelance journalist who has been writing about Guatemalan drug trafficking since 1991 in publications including The Progressive, The Sacramento Bee, The Washington Post, the Village Voice, The New Republic, and The Wall Street Journal. He has been a special correspondent for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Economist. He is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff. His clips are posted at