You couldn’t make it up – III – Top brass gangsterism

The following are extracts from an article by Annie Bird which appeared in a Rights Action communiqué 15 August 2010 and was entitled ‘Cracks in the wall of impunity and corruption’ (

This week arrest warrants were issued against at least 19 members of an organised crime network that operated at the highest levels of Guatemalan justice administration from 2004 to 2007, though some have been active in organised crime and death squads since the 1980s.

One figure apparently involved in this network worked for President Reagan aid Lt Col Oliver North and former CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles. Amongst other political crimes, the network appears to have been involved in the 2007 murders of PARLACEN congressmen.

The investigation by CICIG, the United Nations sponsored Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, focused on extrajudicial executions within the prison system. Jails in Central America have played a key role in coordinating organised crime activities. Control of the prisons is critical in the struggle for dominance between organised crime networks.

Two of those wanted for arrest are Carlos Vielmann, named Minister of Governance in 2004, and Edwin Sperinsen, named Director of the National Civil Police in 2004. The two resigned together in 2007 amid accusations of running a death squad and they left Guatemala later that year. Vielmann currently lives in Spain and Sperinsen currently lives in Switzerland. A third, Alejandro Giammettei, was Director of the Penitentiary System, and sought asylum in 2010 in the Honduran embassy in Guatemala City.

The 2007 accusations and the arrests in August 2010 were related to ‘social cleansing’, extrajudicial executions within the prison system. The CICIG investigations demonstrate that this network killed gang members and criminals with the logic of protecting the higher levels of organised crime.

Sperinsen and Vielmann worked closely together and were also implicated in a strategy of criminalising protests and killing protestors. … In August at least nine were arrested and at least ten other arrest warrants were issued. Those arrested include former heads of special police units to fight kidnapping, extortion and an elite unit within the penitentiary system.

All of the arrests were related to two ‘operations’ undertaken by the network, Operation Gavilán (Hawk) and Operation Pavo Real (Peacock). Operation Hawk tracked three prisoners who had escaped from El Infiernito prison in October 2005 and weeks later extra-judicially executed them.

In Operation Peacock, prison authorities supposedly re-took control of El Pavón prison, in the course of which seven prisoners were killed. Press reports claimed that a mafia had controlled the prison for ten years and that prison facilities served as the headquarters for criminal activities, that kidnap victims were held in the prison and that drugs were processed there. Though the press also reported that the prisoners were killed in the confrontation, it was demonstrated they were executed and that the death squad had compiled a list of targets to be executed during the operation.

Many of those now with arrest warrants participated directly in the operation, including then Minister of Governance Carlos Vielmann, then Director of Police Edwin Sperinsen, Chief and Assistant Chief of Special Investigations Javier Figueroa and Victor Soto, and Director of the Penitentiary System Alejandro Giamattei.