Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sister of Guatemala Presidential Candidate a Fugitive in Corruption Case

Guatemalan authorities have arrested five people for laundering money in a network which allegedly includes Gloria Torres, sister to former presidential candidate and first lady Sandra Torres. Yesterday authorities announced the arrest of the suspects, which includes two former city councilors, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. There are reportedly at least another 12 suspects still at large, including Gloria Torres, who has been missing since authorities issued a warrant for her arrest on November 30. That day, police raided her home in Guatemala City and arrested her youngest daughter, Cristina, currently in prison. Another daughter, Maria Marta, is also wanted on fraud charges but is missing alongside her mother.


Gloria Torres is a key figure in Guatemala politics. She co-founded President Alvaro Colom’s party UNE in 2000. The President later appointed her as a special liaison with Guatemala’s municipal governments. She was secretary of UNE but resigned in April 2011 due to a squabble with the party over her sister’s candidacy for presidency.

The three Torres women are accused of laundering about 1.5 million quetzales worth of municipal funds between 2004 and 2006. Plaza Publica gives a brief history of the allegations against Gloria Torres, no stranger to scandal. According to the news site, Torres was known to have associated with Obdulio Solorzano, former director of a government rural development program known as FONAPAZ, who had to quit the organization due to accusations that he embezzled funds. Solorzano was also rumored to be an ally of drug traffickers Walter Overdick and the Lorenzana family. Although he was never formally charged with any crime , he was murdered in June 2010 in an execution-style killing. According to Plaza Publica, Gloria Torres spent time at Solorzano’s country estates in Alta Verapaz.

The current money laundering charges facing the three Torres women concerns the embezzlement of funds meant for three municipalities. This is in addition to other allegations that Gloria Torres smuggled cash by plane to Panama, for unknown purposes. ElPeriodico broke the story in August. According to a document seen by the newspaper, the director of air traffic security received a letter in May 2010 informing him that soon a group of six people would travel to Panama with bulk amounts of cash hidden in their luggage. The letter described the six as “special guests” of Gloria Torres. According to ElPeriodico, there have been more than 18 such flights to Panama, all involving Torres’ “special guests,” which at times have included members of her security detail. Plaza Publica reports that authorities tried to detain Gloria Torres in June 2010 on fraud charges before she boarded a flight to Miami, but she never appeared on the plane where police waited for her.

President-elect Otto Perez Molina said the charges against Gloria Torres are “an old case,” apparently further confirmation that authorities have been collecting evidence against her misconduct for years but did not act on it until the very end of Alvaro Colom’s presidency. As Central American Politics noted last week:

“It's kind of weird that the arrests are being launched with one month remaining in Alvaro Colom's presidency. On the other hand, if you are the authorities you probably want to make sure that your evidence is really convincing before going after such a close member of the president’s family.”

The only word from Gloria Torres came shortly after her daughter’s arrest, when she called Guatemalan radio station Emisores Unidas. “Everything comes from Sandra and Alvaro,” she complained.

The persecution of a family member of one of Guatemala’s most powerful political families is another sign that the country’s legal system may be growing some teeth. This year has also seen the arrests of several top drug traffickers, including Elio and Waldemar Lorenzana and Juan Chamale.

News Briefs
  • The Washington Post reports on the effectiveness of deploying the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the newspaoer, “the 1,200 National Guard troops have helped Border Patrol agents apprehend 25,514 illegal immigrants at a cost of $160 million — or $6,271 for each person caught.”

  • Colombia will see a mass march today in 34 cities, in response to the FARC’s killing of four kidnap hostages last week. Semana explains why this protest is a particularly significant display of public anger against the guerrillas.
  • The Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog analyzes what the state of emergency recently declared in Peru, meant to quell protests against a U.S. gold mine project, says about the country’s environmental policies.
  • A newsletter by Peace Brigades International takes a detailed look at gold mining and oil production in Colombia, where 40 percent of the national territory has been licensed to or solicited by multinational companies.
  • Just the Facts examines the growing trend of military assuming police roles across the region. Adam Isacson looks at cases in Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras and Peru.
  • An Op-Ed in the LA Times argues there is still much the U.S. can do to secure the release of a U.S. subcontractor imprisoned in Cuba for smuggling telecommunications equipment into the country.
  • In a somewhat redundant piece, the Wall Street Journal examines (again) allegations that Iran is trying to cultivate close ties with the more leftist governments in Latin America.
  • From the weekend, the Christian Science Monitor reports on evidence of post traumatic stress disorder among Mexico’s citizenry.
  • Americas Society has a blog post on last week’s visit by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Latin America, in which several countries expressed interest in providing aid that would help bail out some struggling European economies.
  • Reuters reports that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is at its lowest level in 23 years. On a similar environmental theme, the Miami Herald has a story on a “creative” carbon emissions scheme in Ecuador, in which the country will receive aid in exchange for not developing a huge oil find in a nature reserve.
  • For those with a subscription, the New Yorker has a new piece about the fallout in Jamaica following the 2010 arrest of drug trafficker “Dudus” Coke.
  • The Uruguay Army affirmed they will continue cooperating with human rights investigators into the disappearance of civilians during the military regime, 1975-83, reports the BBC. More from El Pais.