San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Guatemala

Guatemala's ex-president Portillo home from US prison

Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo returned home Wednesday evening after spending nine months in U.S. prison for laundering bribe money from Taiwan.

“I am so happy to be home in Guatemala with my daughter Gabriela, with [his ex-wife] Evelyn and my family,” said Portillo, 63, who earned the dubious distinction of having been the first former Latin American president handed over by his country to a U.S. court.

As Portillo spoke with reporters at Guatemala’s La Aurora International Airport, a large crowd of followers waited outside, cheering the former leader.

Portillo left no doubt that he plans to jump into the country’s election-year political scene, though not as a candidate. He said he wanted to seek a national agreement aimed at reforming the Guatemalan government.

“The country can’t continue with the same political system we have, … with the same justice system we have,” Portillo said, adding that the country’s constitution and government “don’t work.”

“If we all agree, in Guatemala, if we all accept, humbly, responsibly, bravely … that we’ve made mistakes, that we’re not perfect, the country could move forward,” he said.

Portillo assured he would not be a candidate for any elected position, and that if his proposed national agreement wasn’t possible, he would not take part in active politics and would go back to being a university professor.

Portillo had been extradited to the U.S. in May 2013 and a year later was convicted of laundering $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan so that Guatemala would keep recognizing Taiwan and not Beijing.

Central America is home to six of the 22 countries that recognize Taiwan’s independence from China.

Costa Rica also recognized Taiwan until 2007. Since then, it has signed a free trade agreement with China, in 2011, and cooperation deals worth $2 billion in 2013, equivalent to four percent of its economy.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Portillo had served six months in U.S. prison. 

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