Latin America: Killing of Salvadoran Politicians By Police in Guatemala Opens Window on Drug Corruption in Central America, Killing of Killers Closes It

Four Guatemalan police officers in an anti-drug and organized crime unit who were arrested in the gruesome February 19 murders of three Salvadoran politicians were themselves killed Sunday in a brazen assassination inside the prison where they were being held. The two sets of murders are raising serious questions about drug corruption in Central America and, in particular, links between Guatemalan police and organized crime, but the deaths of the police officers means that whatever they knew will go to the grave with them.

On February 19, Salvadoran politicians William Pichinte, Eduardo D'Aubuisson and Jose Ramon Gonzalez -- all members of El Salvador's ruling Arena party -- and their driver were found shot and burned to death in their vehicle on the outskirts of Guatemala City, where they had gone to attend a regional political meeting. With D'Aubuisson being the son of the late Roberto D'Auboisson, who led right-wing death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s, early speculation was that the killings were a political assassination.

But when Luis Arturo Herrera, head of the Guatemalan police organized crime unit, and three of his subordinates were arrested in the crime three days later, various theories related to a drug hit came to the fore. According to speculation in the Central American press, the hit on the Salvadoran politicians came as corrupt Guatemalan police looked for drug money secreted in a hidden compartment in the vehicle. Another version, via Salvadoran police chief Rodrigo Avila, has it that Herrera and his men were tricked into killing the trio by unknowns who told them they were drug traffickers.

Based on GPS devices in Herrera's vehicle, which place it at the scene of the crime, he and his three subordinates were arrested and jailed at the notorious El Boqueron prison some 40 miles east of Guatemala City. On Sunday afternoon, according to eyewitness accounts from inmates' relatives who were visiting the prison, prison guards forced visitors to leave, unknown armed men entered the prison, and the sound of gunshots was heard. The four policemen were found shot to death in their cell.

"They told them [the visitors] that they had to leave because there was going to be a search, and they began pushing the visitors out," said the mother of one prisoner, whose daughter-in-law called her from outside the prison. "When they went outside, they saw armed men enter the prison. Then, when everybody was outside, they heard various gunshots," she said.

"What has happened is that they tried to shut the mouths of those subjects so that they didn't implicate other similar organizations," Salvadoran police chief Avila told reporters. The dead policemen were the victims of "police hit-men," he added. "It is obvious that the persons who committed the murders within the prison have a level of influence within the police structures, or the prison structures, or the structures of the state," Avila said.

Otto Perez Molina, former chief of Guatemalan military intelligence, was thinking along similar lines. "They killed those four because they knew too much about the criminality within the national civil police and they could have implicated the authorities." According to Perez Molina, at least two death squads are operating within Guatemalan law enforcement agencies. "These groups are operating with the complicity of the authorities," he said.

Guatemalan prison authorities Sunday attempted to obscure the circumstances of the killings by trying to tie them to an uprising in the prison that same day by members of Mara Salvatrucha, the Central American gang. But Salvatrucha members who called the press from inside the prison said they rioted after the killings out of fear of being blamed for the officers' deaths.

While the deaths of the four imprisoned police officers means the real reason behind the killings of the Salvadoran politicians may never be known, the two sets of murders are raising questions that could eventually lead to an unveiling of the dark and ugly underside of Central American organized crime and drug law enforcement.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Mexico's tail

So in addition to Mexico being torn apart by the same type of criminal maelstrom that has engulfed Colombia, it looks as though several more criminal tornados are brewing in each little republic of the Mexican tail . . . all the way to South America, at the Colombian border. When will this lunacy end? Is America going to wait until Clombia, Mexico and the statelets of the Mexican tail are all completely destroyed before they abandon the lethal drug prohibition? Are Mexico and Colombia going to wait? Can they? Or are they already run by mobsters?

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