Corruption, El Salvador Government, Organized Crime, violence

Guatemalan Court finds Manuel Castillo Guilty of Murdering the Three Salvadoran Diputados

Last week, a Guatemalan court found ex-diputado Manuel Castillo guilty of being the intellectual author behind the assassination of three Salvadoran Diputados and their driver in February 2007. El Faro reported that the judges sentenced Castillo to 200 years in prison, 50 years for each murder. The court also found Carlos Alberto Gutiérrez Arévalo guilty of being an accessory to murder and sentenced him to 93 years in prison.

The prosecutor successfully convinced the court that Salvadoran ex-diputado Roberto Silva wanted revenge against the ARENA political party for turning on him when he was being charged with money laundering and corruption. The prosecutor claimed that Silva contacted Castillo to arrange the killings of the ARENA Diputados. Silva is in a detention facility in Arizona where he is being held on immigration charges and was not present for these hearings.

The defense argued that a parallel security force operated by high-ranking Guatemalan officials were responsible for the killings. This is a theory supported by the UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, in Spanish). As we posted in November, a leaked CICIG report provided details about the parallel security force, as well as details about the murders. The report claims, in part, that William Pichinte – one of the Salvadoran Diputados – was carrying 20 kilograms of cocaine and $5 million in cash the night they were murdered. Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann and Victor Rivera (aka “Zacarias”), who were both involved in the parallel security force, learned of the drugs and money and arranged to have the vehicle detained and searched, and the Diputados and their driver killed.

Since the CICIG report came to light, there has been a lot of dispute about its findings concerning the assassinations of the Diputados. Salvadoran Diputado Roberto D’Aubuisson, the brother of Eduardo D’Aubuisson who was one of the Diputados killed, spoke out against the CICIG report, adamantly denying that drugs were not involved. Ex-Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani, who is also head of COENA (the leadership organization within the ARENA party), took a less aggressive position but called for a more thorough investigation before rushing to judgment. The Guatemalan prosecutors refused to investigate those implicated by the CICIG report.

From the beginning, this has been a very confusing case in which the truth seems illusive. Those following the story have had to interpret numerous hypothesis and accusations since the attacks against the Diputados and the assassinations of the four Guatemalan police officers arrested for their murders. Ex-Diputados Roberto Silva and Manuel Castillo, who are notorious for their  involvement in money laundering and organized crime, will be taking the fall for these murders.  The ruling nearly guarantees that the people implicated in the CICIG report will not be prosecuted for this crime.  In the days following the murders, there were reports that it was a drug deal gone bad and that cash and drugs had been stolen from the scene. Though it was the revenge theory pushed by the prosecutors, the drug trafficking theory survives and those in power continue to deny it and attack those who promote it. We hope that the investigations continue, but fear that like so many of the high profile corruption cases in the region, the truth will get buried in confusion.