Fired Guatemalan Drug Agents Get 25 Years
JUAN CARLOS LLORCA
GUATEMALA CITY - A Guatemalan court on Wednesday sentenced 16
former members of an elite anti-drug force to 25 years in prison for leading
raid on a corn-growing village last year.
All defendants were found guilty of using their position of authority
to commit murder when they ordered or participated in the storming of Chocon,
miles northeast of Guatemala City, the capital.
During the raid, authorities shot and killed two locals and held
most of the rest of the town hostage for two days. Agents left after making
three arrests -
even though house-to-house searches failed to result in a single drug seizure.
Police commanders fired all of the defendants before they went
to trial and dissolved the anti-narcotics unit at the end of last year.
The case still drew
sharp criticism from Guatemala's human rights ombudsman and the United Nations Mission to Guatemala, however.
U.S. officials also said the violent raid played a role in Washington's
decision to strip Guatemala of its drug certification in January, costing
this country U.S.
aid for its anti-drugs programs.
Defense attorneys said they would appeal Wednesday's sentences.
"This was politics," said lawyer Boanerges Chavez. The rulings
"were manipulated by the authorities, who condemned innocent people who
trying to capture drug dealers that operated in that area."
Witnesses of the Chocon raid said agents shot and killed two suspected drug dealers when the men tried to run away.
Other officers then made everyone lie face-down in the street.
Yelling "hand over the drugs," they searched dozens of men, women and children
than an hour, but found nothing.
The raid continued with officers breaking into and ransacking
homes. Eventually authorities set up shop in a municipal building and spent
the next two days
interrogating dozens of people and making detailed lists of their belongings.