Guatemala City — Three murdered Salvadoran legislators. Four cops, suspected in the killings, themselves shot to death in a maximum security prison. Broken government agencies. And more questions than answers.
That's what FBI investigators will face when they arrive this week to help sort out the stunning murders, which have highlighted the wave of drug-fueled corruption and crime lashing a country President Bush will visit in seven days.
"The number of murders in this country is offensive and, unfortunately, authorities have done little to stop the blood bath," said the government's own Human Rights Ombudsman Sergio Morales.
Authorities and activists say the problems date back to a decade-old peace treaty that ended a bloody civil war but did little to cleanse the ranks of a historically violent police and other security forces.
"We had 30 years of war, with more than 100,000 dead, and no tribunals were ever carried out," said Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann. "Then we had 10 years of the formation of a new police force, but again, there was no serious action to resolve internal problems."
Luis Ramirez, an analyst with the watchdog Guatemalan Institute of Comparative Studies on Penal Science, said that while the 1996 peace accord called for dismantling the old police force, a new one was never really created.
"They changed uniforms but everything stayed the same," Ramirez said. "Historical problems have now come to surface. These murders are like an x-ray: They show the profound problems that exist."
Add the corruption and crime generated by drug smuggling - U.S. estimates show that 75 percent of the Colombian cocaine hitting American streets passes through here - and security agencies can be easily overwhelmed.
"It's not that organized crime has penetrated the police force or the Interior Ministry," said Ramirez. "Organized crime is directing the police, the ministry and the military."
The murder rate in this country of 12.7 million rose each year since 1999 and now stands at 45 per 100,000 residents, compared to Florida's five per 100,000 in 2005. Many say that if the recent victims had not been well-known Salvadorans, they would have received little attention.
The gruesome drama began Feb. 19, when the Salvadorans and their driver were found shot and burned to death 20 miles southeast of the capital. They served on the Central American Parliament, which meets in Guatemala City, and were members of El Salvador's ruling ARENA party.
Initially, speculation that a settling of political scores from Central America's old civil wars was sparked by the fact that one of the victims, Eduardo D'Aubuisson, was the son of the late Roberto D'Aubuisson, a founder of ARENA and accused death squad leader in the 1980s.
Three days later, four police officers - including the head of the Guatemalan National Police organized crime unit - were arrested in the killings and jailed in the El Boqueron maximum security facility 40 miles east of the capital.
Three more days later, the cops were shot dead in their cells - killed by either fellow inmates or what witnesses described as a heavily armed group of men wearing prison guard uniforms who drove to the prison in a dark vehicle.