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Guatemalan police death squad connect today’s organized

August 15th, 2010 · No Comments

More information: Annie Bird ( & Grahame
Russell (

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Arrests of Guatemalan police death squad connect today’s organized
crime to 1980s death squads and the CIA
By Annie Bird (, August 2010

This week arrest warrants were issued against at least 19 members of
an organized crime network that operated at the highest levels of
Guatemalan justice administration from 2004 to 2007, though some have
been active in organized crime and death squads since the 1980s.

One figure apparently involved in this network worked for President
Ronald Reagan aid Lt Col. Oliver North and former CIA agent Luis
Posada Carriles. Amongst other political crimes, the network appears
to have been involved in the 2007 murders of PARLACEN congressmen.

The investigation by CICIG, the United Nations sponsored Commission
Against Impunity in Guatemala, has focused on extrajudicial executions
within the prison system. Jails in Central America have played a key
role in structuring and coordinating organized crime activities.
Control of the prisons is critical in the struggle for dominance
between organized crime networks.

Two of those wanted for arrest are Carlos Vielmann, named Minister of
Governance in July 2004, and Edwin Sperinsen, named Director of the
National Civil Police in August 2004. The two resigned together in
March 2007 amid accusations of running a death squad and they left
Guatemala in 2007. A third, Alejandro Giammettei, was Director of the
Penitentiary System, and on Friday, August 6, 2010 sought asylum in
the Honduran embassy in Guatemala City.

The 2007 accusations, and this week’s arrests, were related to “social
cleansing,” extrajudicial executions, within the prison system.
Though ‘social cleansing’ is sometimes looked upon favorably by some
sectors of the public given the intolerable levels of violence, the
investigations of CICIG demonstrate that this network killed gang
members and criminals with the logic of protecting the higher levels
of organized crime, protecting perpetrators of kidnappings,
extortions, drug trafficking, and other crimes.

Sperinsen and Vielmann worked closely together, and were also
implicated in a strategy of criminalizing protests and killing
protestors. Incidents for which they are considered responsible
include the August 31, 2004 Nueva Linda massacre, the January 11, 2005
murder of Raul Castro Bocel (while protesting the Glamis Gold/
Goldcorp Inc mine), the March 14, 2005 murder of Juan Lopez Velazquez
during a protest against the Central America Free Trade Agreement
CAFTA, among others.

Between August 10 and 12, at least 9 have been arrested while at least
10 arrest warrants are pending execution. Those arrested include
former heads of the special police units to fight kidnapping,
extortion, and an elite unit within the penitentiary system.


All of the arrests were related to two “Operations” undertaken by the
network, Operacion Gavilan (Operation Hawk), which tracked three
prisoners who had escaped from El Infiernito prison in October 2005
and weeks later extra-judicially executed them, and Operacion Pavo
Real (Operation Peacock).

In Operacion Pavo Real, prison authorities supposedly re-took control
of El Pavon prison, in the course of which seven prisoners were
killed. Though the press reported that prisoners were killed in the
confrontation, it was demonstrated they were executed and that the
death squad had compiled a list of targets to be executed during the

The operation was highly lauded, press reports claimed that a mafia
had controlled the prison for 10 years, and that prison installations
served as the headquarters for criminal activities, that kidnap
victims were held in the prison, drugs were processed, etc.

Many of those now with arrest warrants participated directly in the
operation, including then Minister of Governance, Carlos Vielmann,
then Director of Police Edwin Sperisen, Chief and Assistant Chief of
special investigations Javier Figueroa and Victor Soto, and Director
of the Penitentiary System Alejandro Giamattei.

CICIG investigators have stated that it is expected that the network
will be implicated in at least eight more crimes that will come to
light over the course of the trial, including among others, drug
trafficking and kidnapping.


On February 19, 2007 a caravan of six official cars traveled from San
Salvador to Guatemala City, escorted by police. Upon arriving in
Guatemala City one of the cars, transporting Eduardo D’Aubuisson, Jose
Ramón González and William Rissiety Pichinte, all from the ARENA
party, left the caravan. They were stopped by a police car and taken
to a torture center outside of Guatemala City where they were tortured
for several hours before their bodies and their car were burned and
abandoned on a farm near the border with El Salvador.

The police officers implicated were quickly identified via video
surveillance footage and GPS systems in police cars. Warrants for the
arrest of nine officers were issued, and four were detained. The El
Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments requested the assistance of the
FBI, but on February 26, 2007 just hours before a scheduled polygraph
tests the four police officers were killed in a maximum security

Crowds of prison visitors reported that an armed contingent freely
entered the prison; some claims include witnessing then Police
Director Sperinsen with the squad. Approximately twenty minutes later
shots were heard, and later gang members rioted. Minister of
Governance Carlos Vielmann claimed the four police officers had been
killed in a gang uprising, though later confronted with witness
reports officials claimed the armed men forced entry into the prison.

Eduardo D’Aubuisson was the son of the infamous Roberto D’Aubuisson,
death squad leader and leader of the ultra right wing ARENA party.

On July 26, 2010 Guatemalan district attorneys indicted Manuel de
Jesús Castillo, a former Guatemalan congressman, and eight others in
the killing of three El Salvadoran PARLACEN congressmen and their
driver in Guatemala in 2007. Former El Salvadoran PARLACEN member
Roberto Carlos Silva Pereira, thought to be involved in drug
trafficking, is pending deportation from the United States to face

Two motives for the killings have been advanced, that Silva sought
revenge for his expulsion from ARENA for drug association or that they
were rivals in the drug business.

At least two of those sought for arrest demonstrate a clear connection
to the PARLACEN killings. In addition to Sperinsen himself, Victor
Soto was part of Edwin Sperinsen’s elite Anti Kidnapping Command and
participated in the September 2006 raid on El Pavon prison. In March
2007 he was fired from his position of Director of the Criminal
Investigations as he was the direct superior of the four police
officers arrested then killed in El Boqueron.

A truck that reportedly assisted in the transportation of the victims
to the torture center and farm where their bodies and car were burned
was owned by Gulf cartel kingpin Jorge Arturo Paredes Cordova, also
implicated in the 2008 killing of Victor Rivera, a special advisor to
Minister of Governance. “El Gordo” Paredes is currently serving a 31
year sentence in the United States, convicted of cocaine trafficking
after being arrested in Honduras in May 2008. He reportedly had
inherited control of the Gulf cartel following the arrest of Otto


Victor Rivera had been a special advisor in the Ministry of Governance
on kidnapping investigations since at least 2000. According to former
DEA agent Celerino Castillo, Victor Rivera was originally from
Venezuela but came to El Salvador as a CIA asset to work with former
CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles and Ronald Regan aid Lt. Col. Oliver
North in the Ilopango Air Base “drug trafficking, kidnapping and
training death squads” in the early 1980’s.

Rivera advised ‘security structures’ in El Salvador in the 1980s and
early 1990. After the peace accords he became an advisor to the El
Salvadoran Vice Minister of Security Hugo Barrera, with whom Rivera,
under the pseudonym Zacarias, helped create the new National Civil
Police and the parallel, unofficial Police Analysis Unit that operated
out of the office of a business owned by Barrera.

In 1996, Rivera was forced to leave El Salvador when a warrant was
issued for his arrest in relation to his role in the police killing of
a medical student, Adriano Vilanova, according to some reports as a
possible consequence of a romance between Vilanova and Roberto
D’Aubuisson daughter. In 1997 Rivera began assisting in kidnapping
investigations in Guatemala and since at least 2000 was formally
contracted as an advisor to the Guatemalan Ministry of Governance,
there again forming a parallel police ‘investigation’ apparatus.

On April 7, 2008 Victor Rivera was fatally shot while driving, one
week after his contract was not renewed in the Ministry of Governance.
On July 26, 2010 it was announced that as a result of CICIG
investigations, an arrest warrant was issued for his secretary and
principal assistant, María del Rosario Melgar for helping coordinate
Rivera’s murder.

According to CICIG’s investigations Melgar is also implicated in the
Vielmann / Sperinsen network. Rivera was reportedly very close to

There is also speculation that Rivera was involved in the PARLECEN
killings; a video has emerged of the four officers in custody speaking
with Victor Ramirez in which one reportedly said to him, “Ok, I will
go (to prison), but I will take all of you with me.” Three days later
all four officers were dead.

It is not clear why “El Gordo” Paredes had Rivera killed. According
to CICIG’s Director, the two had a long standing relationship, and the
murder order could have arisen from “the kidnapping of the son (of
Paredes) that ended tragically, in which he could have blamed Rivera
and waited years until he could take revenge, or it could be some
joint activity that came out badly and as you know with this class of
business you pay with your life.”


Sperinsen and Vielmann’s positions in power began with Oscar Berger’s
presidency in 2004. Though no one has implicated any connection, and
the events predate Vielmann, the decapitation of inmate Obdulio
Villanueva on September 12, 2003 in Pavon prison demonstrates a
pattern similar to other cases that implicate Vielmann’s network.

Sergeant Obdulio Villanueva, together with Colonel Byron Lima Estrada
and Capitan Byron Lima Oliva, father and son, were convicted of the
1998 murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi following the release of the
report of a Catholic Church sponsored truth commission he directed.

Obdulio Villanueva’s defense was that he was in prison the night of
the murder, though investigators were able to establish that
Villanueva left prison at will and indeed had left the night of the
murder. Villanueva had been serving a sentence for the killing of a
milkman in a confusing incident while he served in the Estado Mayor
Presidencial, a presidential guard and intelligence agency.

In March 2010 a notebook taken from Villanueva’s accomplice, Byron
Lima Oliva, showed notes with contact information for top members of
the Gulf Cartel.


Carlos Vielmann began his government career with high approval as then
President Oscar Berger’s special commissioner on corruption. One of
his first actions was rescinding over valued contracts to supply food
to the prison system, coordinating new low priced contracts, an
interesting fact given that food suppliers have notoriously been the
suppliers of weapons to the crime networks that control Central
American prisons. Vielmann quickly was named Minister of Governance.
Vielmann currently lives in Spain.

Erwin Sperisen, reportedly of Swiss ancestry, currently lives in
Switzerland. Sperinsen’s father was Guatemala’s representative to the
World Trade Organization. After briefly serving as advisor to the
Guatemala City mayor, Sperinsen was named director of the National
Civil Police in 2004 with no prior experience. He is reported to have
placed 30 military officers in high ranking police positions. During
his term as Director of Police he was known to engage in ‘social
cleansing’ and reportedly discussed these actions in his televised
evangelical sermons.

Alejandro Giammattei is wanted for his participation in the Operation
Pavo Real while Director of the Penitentiary System. He was the
Presidential Candidate in 2007 for the then incumbent GANA party. On
Friday, August 6, days before the arrest warrants were made public, he
sought asylum in the Honduran Embassy on Friday claiming he had
received death threats over the past 45 day as a result of his vocal
opposition to the administration of the current President Alvaro

Yesterday the Honduran ambassador informed the press the asylum
request had been denied and Giammattei was expected to leave the
embassy by Friday.

Victor Hugo Soto was Director of the SIC, Special Criminal
Investigation unit, of the National Civil Police. He began his police
career in the police death squad known as the “Archivo” in the 1980s,
and went on to serve in a series of elite police units, including anti
kidnapping units. While head of SIC, in 2002, he was part of a
strange incident in which police and military exchanged fire in a
shoot out in Guatemala City during a kidnapping victim’s ransom drop.
A witness claimed Soto pocketed the ransom. In 2004 he was
investigated for blocking investigation of corrupt officers. He is
accused in participation in the Operacion Pavo Real. He has been
closely associated with Victor Rivera. Investigators failed in an
attempt to capture Soto during a birthday party for the mayor of Ocos,
San Marcos, a township infamous for the high level of drug


These stories go on and on; they are not over. Last week’s arrest
shine a small but important light on the “clandestine structures of
power” that operate in Guatemala with next to complete impunity.
These arrests are small but important steps in cracking the wall of
corruption and impunity. Stay tuned.

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