GUATEMALA- Four policemen accused of murdering three ARENA party deputies were themselves killed in their Guatemalan jail cells last night. The accused had been transferred to the prison in Cuilapa, 40 miles east of Guatemala City, earlier Saturday after defense lawyers expressed concerns about security conditions at another Guatemala City detention center. Among the jailed policemen was Luis Arturo Herrera the former director of the organized crime division of Guatemalan National Civil Police. Herrera and three of his former officers were shot and had their throats slit while in their cells.
Reuters News reports that relatives of other prisoners visiting the jail witnessed guards allowing passage to the attackers. Shots were heard inside soon after, according to the same report. Other reports state that the four police were killed in a jail riot initiated by members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) gang, who dominate the prison. But Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman said that the “riot” was a reaction by prisoners who wanted to ensure that they would not be blamed for the killings. Prisoners had taken the prison warden and four other officials hostage.
Guatamalan officials stated at 1 am Monday morning that they knew of no other deaths inside the prison other than the four ex-police officers.
The safety of the officers was in question from the moment of their arrests. One officer stated in court, “I would rather commit suicide than speak, because they’re going to kill me anyway.” The officer’s declaration and telephone records that showed that the officers received calls from El Salvador during the attack on the politicians, indicate that powerful people are calling shots from behind the scenes.
The gruesome murders of three Salvadoran deputies–including the son of ARENA party founder Roberto D’Aubuisson– stunned Salvadorans and Guatemalans alike, and sent political spin machines into action to explain the events. The investigation into the murders of the deputies could offer a rare peek into the extensive shadowy links between drug trafficking networks, police agencies and publicly elected officials, but those hopes were all but snuffed out with the murders of the ex-agents.
Eduardo d’Aubuisson, 32, William Pichinte, 49, and José Ramón González, 57, were tortured, shot and their bodies incinerated with gasoline and white phosphorous at a ranch 22 miles outside Guatemala City. The four police were almost immediately arrested since a web of unquestionable facts engulfed them. The officers vehicle was equipped with GPS tracking which linked it to the timeline of the murders. In addition, the officers ware caught on a number of surveillance cameras around Guatemala City, including in a parking lot where they initially made contact with their future victims.
Questions about the officers’ motives, whether the victims knew their attackers and who ordered the killings remain.
On Feb. 19, the Salvadoran deputies–members of the right wing ARENA party–inexplicably pulled out of a four-car official motorcade destined for Guatemala City. Their car was met by the GPS-equipped police vehicle, at which time two of the Salvadoran switched vehicles, while two police went traveled in Pichinte’s Toyota Land Cruiser.
According to Guatemalan officials, two other PNC officers– Marvin Roberto Contreras y Jeyner Varillas Recinos– are being sought for their involvement in the plot. Witnesses reported seeing them filling plastic canisters with fuel at a nearby gas station. The two allegedly drove to the site to deliver the fuel to light ablaze the crime scene.
That police forces in Central America are corrupted by links with narco-trafficking and organized crime rings is not suprising. Salvadoran police Inspector-General Romeo Melara Granilla told IPS News that in 2006 alone, 400 agents and officers were dismissed for serious crimes, including extorsion, robbery, kidnapping and collaborating with criminal gangs.
In Guatemala, Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann stated last November that 700 police officers are under investigation, and 1,038 have been fired for links unbefitting officers.
The newspaper El Periódico revealed an alleged plan conceived by civil and military heads, which targeted former government officials and journalists. The article reported that Erwin Sperisen, director of the National Civil Police (PNC), and Javier Figueroa, head of police investigations, were involved in the plot.
According to the report, Sperisen, Figueroa, and other military personnel were to hire paramilitary groups to execute the victims and afterwards place blame on members of a political party.