San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemala Fears Drug Money in 2007 Elections

GUATEMALA CITY – The Guatemalan government fears that drug traffickers will try to infiltrate the general elections set for next year.

The illegal drug trade has formulated a plan for the next elections, Interior Minister Carlos Vielman and Human Rights Commissioner Frank La Rue said in a statement published Tuesday in the local press.

Head of the opposition Patriot Party (PP), Gen. Otto Pérez, dismissed Vielman’s warning as nothing new since it has long been known that drug traffickers try to gain power by penetrating political organizations.

“It is the responsibility of each party to be very careful to avoid that,” the lawmaker and ex-commissioner of Security and Defense said.

Pérez, almost certain to be a presidential candidate in the 2007 elections, said his party has taken measures to block infiltration by drug traffickers.

“We ask that all political parties act responsibly because analysts compare the situation in Guatemala with what Colombia went through in the late 1980s, when drug lords came out of hiding and went into politics,” Vielman said.

“There are many towns in Guatemala where drug traffickers already pay for local festivities, where they build schools and medical centers – but always in exchange for something,” he added.

Authorities here estimate that some 150 tons of cocaine pass through the country each year bound for the U.S. market.

According to the U.S. Embassy and the Guatemalan Interior Ministry, at least seven drug cartels operate in the country.

In January, Interior Vice-Minister Julio Godoy reported to a television news program in Mexico that at least five legislators were involved in drug trafficking, but did not reveal their names.

U.S. diplomats as well as officials from the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office and Interior Ministry have said that drug cartels are gradually taking over this Central American country, considered the principal transshipment point for South American cocaine bound for the big U.S. market.


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