Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Three top officials of Guatemala’s elite anti-narcotics police — Servicio de Analisis e Informacion Antinarcoticos or SAIA — have been arrested by U.S. drug agents on charges of conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in the United States.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Karen Tandy yesterday said the three senior SAIA officials, named in a federal grand jury indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Washington, were arrested in the United States Tuesday after arriving from Guatemala.

The three are Adan Castillo Lopez, chief of the SAIA and the highest-ranking anti-narcotics officer in Guatemala; Jorge Aguilar Garcia, second in command at SAIA; and Rubilio Orlando Palacios, a member of the special police force who was responsible for security sweeps at Santo Tomas, a port on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast.

“More than corrupting the public trust, these Guatemalan police officials have been Trojan horses for the very addiction and devastation they were entrusted to prevent,” Mrs. Tandy said. “In the battle against drugs, their actions are abhorrent — giving aid to an enemy they had sworn to fight against. Finally, they will face the same justice they had long ago abandoned.”

DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said the indictment and arrests were the result of a four-month investigation by DEA agents in the United States and Central America. He said DEA agents worked with investigators from the Justice Department and the Guatemalan government.

If convicted, each man faces 10 years in prison.

U.S. law-enforcement authorities said Guatemala remains a major drug-transit country for South American cocaine and heroin headed to the United States and Europe.

Authorities also said Guatemala has become a crucial stopover for Colombian drug dealers and is the preferred destination for most of the so-called “go-fasts” boats that move bulk quantities of cocaine north. From Guatemala, the drugs are smuggled into Mexico and moved across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Earlier this year, Mr. Castillo, representing SAIA, told the Associated Press that as Guatemala’s importance grows in the illicit narcotics business, drug gangs in that country had begun trying to form a cartel to control all of Central America.

Last week, he told that he was quitting as head of SAIA, saying he had received too many death threats from powerful drug gangs and saw no will on the part of the Guatemalan government to fight the problem. He also said he thought Guatemalan drug dealers had informants within SAIA.

“I have not seen [the political will], and I don’t think there will be any for at least another 100 years here in Guatemala. For the moment, there is no one who can do this, because the [drug trafficking] organizations are too strong,” Mr. Castillo was quoted as saying.

He said he planned to deliver a letter of resignation in January. He was arrested Tuesday.

The SAIA was created in 2003 to replace Guatemala’s previous anti-drug force, the Department of Antinarcotics Operations, after U.S. authorities found the agency was overrun by drug dealers.

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