As Guatemala prepares for elections on June 16, the race has been dogged by controversy, including the arrest of now-former presidential candidate Mario Estrada on drug trafficking charges in the United States.
Estrada and an alleged accomplice, Juan Pablo Gonzalez Mayorga, were arrested April 17 and charged with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and a related firearms offense.
Prosecutors in New York allege that Estrada and Gonzalez conspired to solicit money from a Mexican drug cartel to finance his presidential campaign in exchange for state-sponsored support for drug trafficking activities, promising to help move tons of cocaine through Guatemala to the United States, according to a news release from the US Department of Justice.
Estrada also attempted to arrange the assassinations of political rivals, prosecutors allege.
Estrada and Gonzalez thought they were dealing with members of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel, but they were actually informants for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA. They recorded the then-candidate’s attempts to fund his campaign with drug money and to assassinate political rivals, according to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department did not name the political rivals, but a high-ranking Guatemalan government official told CNN en Español that Thelma Aldana, a former attorney general and presidential hopeful for the center-left Movimiento Semilla party, was one of the targets.
Aldana told CNN en Español on Thursday that Estrada targeted her in a plot revealed to her by DEA agents.
“I can confirm that at the beginning of March I received a message from the DEA which indicated that a criminal organization was planning an attack against me,” she told CNN en Español’s Fernando del Rincón.
Estrada, who was running for the Union del Cambio Nacional party, was arrested alongside Gonzalez in Miami.
The party declined to comment when contacted by CNN.
As a result, Guatemalan electoral authorities revoked Estrada’s candidacy Wednesday following a unanimous decision by magistrates, a spokesman told CNN en Español. Estrada had not been among the front-runners in the race.
On Tuesday, Estrada and Gonzalez appeared in federal court in Miami, and a judge ordered them to be transferred to New York.
Neither Estrada, Gonzalez or their defense attorneys have commented since the arrests.