Thirteen inmates were killed in a Guatemala prison riot between rival groups aiming to control drug sales, inmate transfers and internal discipline, reports the New York Times. Former army captain Byron Lima, convicted of killing a bishop who fought for human rights in the country's civil war, died in the unrest.
He was shot twice in the head say Interior Ministry sources. The subsequent rioting continued for hours, and some of the other victims were decapitated, reports InSight Crime in a lengthy analysis piece with a lot of history on the case, rife with material for conspiracy theories.
The case is paradigmatic of how groups operating inside of Guatemala's military “have been able to morph into criminal groups that have used their connections to gain power and economic benefit, either licitly or illicitly,” Adriana Beltrán, an expert on the country’s military networks who is a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America told the NYTimes.
Lima, called Guatemala's most powerful prisoner, was serving a 30 year sentence (later reduced to 20) for the 1998 murder of of Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, who was killed just two days after presenting a human rights report on atrocities in the civil war.
Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in his quarters, Lima -- along with his father, Byron Disrael Lima, and another military officer -- were accused of extrajudicial execution, later an appeal reduced their conviction to that of accomplices. The intellectual author of the crime has never been discovered, reports Nómada.
But far from languishing behind bars, Lima built up an a powerful criminal operation that permitted him extensive control of the penitentiary system, reports Sofia Menchú in Contrapoder. He is accused of creating a vast extortion scheme that made a business of transferring inmates: he reportedly charged $6,000 per transfer.
"From January 2012, the jails worked under the orders of a payroll created by an inmate: Byron Lima Oliva, who, from his cell, placed 36 people close to him in key prison administration positions, thus commanding the country's jails. These appointments were not coincidence: they corresponded to the relation of trust the convict had with the interior minister, Mauricio López Bonilla."
"Nothing and nobody entered or left the prisons under his control" without paying tribute, reports Nomada. He had particularly close ties to the Partido Patriota, which governed from 2012. Former president Otto Pérez Molina, who was forced to resign last year and now faces corruption charges, was a longtime mentor of Lima, and was a student of his father, Byron Disrael Lima, report InSight Crime and Nómada. Lima served as a cadet under Pérez Molina, according to Soy 502.
The extensive privileges he enjoyed included using Facebook and writing a newspaper column, notes the NYTimes. A sewing cooperative he ran in the prison made campaign t-shirts for Pérez Molina in 2011.
The information to unravel the vast extortion scheme Lima Oliva is accused of running, along with the director of the penitentiary system, came from the CICIG, which confiscated several cellphones he was carrying when arrested outside the prison in 2013.
Lima spent time in 8 of the country's 22 jails since his incarceration in 2000. In each he "managed to gain control of the prison's economy, its social life, and its security system," according to InSight Crime which interviewed him three times in the last four months. "His guile was renown. And when others challenged him, they paid the price. Four of the gang members who decapitated his military cohort in 2003 were themselves decapitated five years later in a jail that Lima controlled."
His source of power were the lowest run prisoners, known as "Russians," explains InSight. He befriended the oft abused inmates and made them his army. He also dedicated himself to controlling the prisons' illegal economies: liquor, cell phones and other contraband.
Lima Oliva's lawyer said he had reports from prison inmates that the former army captain had recently forbidden a rival gang from selling drugs in the prison where he was serving his sentence, reports the BBC.
Soy 502 has a piece on Marvin Montiel Marín, known as "El Taquero," the inmate accused by authorities of killing Lima as part of a power struggle. Marín is serving a 828-year sentence for killing 16 tourists in 2008, part of a drug trafficking shipment gone awry.
Speaking in court on Monday, Pérez Molina said he remains convinced of Lima's innocence in the Gerardi assassination, reports the NYTimes. Yesterday he said Lima was a good person, reports Soy 502.
The case is a "crime of state," said Lima's brother yesterday, according to Soy 502.