Alfonso Portillo

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Alfonso Portillo
Foto oficial de Alfonso Portillo.jpg
Official portrait
33rd President of Guatemala
In office
14 January 2000 – 14 January 2004
Vice PresidentJuan Francisco Reyes López
Preceded byÁlvaro Arzú
Succeeded byÓscar Berger
Personal details
Born (1951-09-24) 24 September 1951 (age 71)
Zacapa, Guatemala
Political partyIndependent (2004–present)
Other political
Guatemalan Republican Front (1995–2004)
Guatemalan Christian Democracy (1993–1995)
María Eugenia Padúa González
(m. 1981; div. 1990)
(m. 1995; div. 2005)

Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera (born 24 September 1951) is a Guatemalan politician who served as President of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004.

He took office on 14 January 2000, representing the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), the party then led by retired general and deposed military ruler Efraín Ríos Montt (1926 – 2018). In 2014, ten years after his departure as President of Guatemala, Portillo would plead guilty to corruption charges in a United States court.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Portillo was born in Zacapa. He obtained his academic qualifications in Mexico. He allegedly received a degree in social sciences from the Autonomous University of Guerrero (UAG) in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, and his doctorate from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. However, the veracity of such claims remains uncertain since no evidence has been provided to support them.[3]


In the late 1970s he became involved with left-wing indigenous groups in Guerrero and with the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). During the 1980s he lectured in political science at the university in Chilpancingo. During that time, Portillo shot and killed two students. He later claimed that he had shot the students in self-defense. His political opponents, however, asserted that he had killed the two unarmed students in a "bar brawl." He was never charged for the shootings, and in 1995, a Mexican judge declared the case "inactive."[4][5]

In 1989 Portillo returned to Guatemala and joined the Social Democratic Party, which had replaced the Authentic Revolutionary Party the previous year. The little-known PSD was one of the very few leftist parties that survived the military repression that had characterized the 1970s and 1980s. He then moved to the Guatemalan Christian Democrats (DCG), a center-right formation which at the time was the governing party. In 1992 he was appointed Director of the Guatemalan Institute of Social and Political Sciences (IGESP), a role he held till 1994. He became the DCG's Secretary General in 1993 and was elected as one of their deputies in 1994, and became head of their group in Congress. During this time he also became an editorial adviser to Siglo Veintiuno, one of the two largest-selling daily newspapers.[citation needed]


In April 1995 Portillo, along with another seven of the DCG's 13 deputies, left the party to become independents after the parliamentary group was accused of corruption. On 20 July 1995 he joined the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG). Its leader, Efraín Ríos Montt, was at the time leader of Congress. When Ríos Montt was constitutionally barred from running in the 12 November presidential election because he had previously taken power through a coup d'etat, the FRG chose Portillo as their candidate. After gaining 22% of the vote in the first round of voting, he lost to Álvaro Arzú in the second round on 7 January 1996. With both candidates promising to finalize the peace negotiations Portillo narrowly lost, garnering 48.7% of the vote.[6][citation needed]

Presidential aspirations[edit]

In July 1998 the FRG voted for him to be their presidential candidate the following year, having decided not to nominate Ríos Montt. Portillo launched a campaign in favor of bringing morality into political life, to implacably fight corruption, to defend the indigenous population and the poor campesinos against the small, urban, white elite. He also promised security in the face of the growing problem with delinquency during Arzú's tenure in the office. In contrast to 1995, the issue of the homicides in Mexico was brought up, and became a central electoral issue. Portillo immediately admitted that he had shot the two students, but claimed it was an act of self-defense. He said that he had fled from the Mexican authorities, rather than face trial, both because of his political affiliations, and because he was a foreigner in Mexico. These revelations enhanced Portillo's as a "tough, no-nonsense" politician. On 7 November he won the first round with 47.8% of the vote, and in the second round on 26 December he decisively beat Óscar Berger with 68.3% of the vote.[citation needed]

Presidency (2000–2004)[edit]

On the day of his investiture Portillo said that Guatemala was "on the edge of collapse", and promised a thorough government investigation into corruption. On 9 August 2000 he declared that the governments of the previous two decades had been involved in human rights abuses. While he showed determination to see through his regenerative and progressive programme, his government soon became overwhelmed by the reality of the political and mafia corruption in the country. During 2001 his government faced a continuous wave of protests that sapped the credibility of his government. The FRG was accused of bringing corruption on an unprecedented scale to the country. His government has been tainted by accusations of theft, money laundering, money transferring to the army, creation of bank accounts in Panama, Mexico, and the United States by many members of his staff, totalling more than US$1 billion.[citation needed]

In the first round of the November 2003 elections (see: 2003 Guatemala election), he backed former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt to succeed him. However, the FRG lost to Óscar Berger Perdomo's GANA party, who was sworn in to replace Portillo on 14 January 2004.[7]

A 2014 audit of 2001 showed illegal transfers from other departments to the military.[8]


When his political immunity was revoked on 19 February 2004, Portillo immediately fled to Mexico. On 16 August 2004, immigration authorities there granted him a year-long work visa. He then lived in Mexico City in an apartment in one of the city's most exclusive neighbourhoods. Portillo was accused of authorizing $15 million in transfers to the Guatemalan defense department, where authorities believe most of the money was stolen by his associates. After a long process, Mexico's foreign ministry approved Portillo's extradition back to Guatemala on 30 October 2006.[9][10] His actual extradition did not occur until 7 October 2008.[11]

According to reports in May 2007, Portillo sued Guatemala in the Central American Court of Justice, in Nicaragua, to be reinstated as a member of the Central American Parliament (and thus regain his immunity from prosecution).[12]

In January 2010, reports stated that the U.S. government was looking for Portillo in relation to money laundering charges.[13]

On 26 January 2010, Portillo was apprehended by local authorities in Guatemala near Punta de Palma.

Portillo and his associates were absolved of all embezzlement charges on 9 May 2011 by a Guatemalan court that determined that prosecutors, Guatemala's Public Ministry, did not present sufficient evidence to convict the former president.[14] The Public Ministry said they disagree with the court's decision and announced plans to appeal the ruling.

On 26 August 2011, the Constitutional Court ruled that he must be extradited to the United States.[15] He would then be the first former Guatemalan President to stand prosecution in the United States.[16] He was extradited to the United States on 24 May 2013 to face money laundering charges.[17][18] He is accused of laundering US$70 million of Guatemalan money through US banks.[19]

On 18 March 2014, former President Portillo pleaded guilty at a hearing before United States District Judge Robert P. Patterson.[1][2] On 22 May 2014, Judge Patterson sentenced Portillo to 70 months in prison, $2.5 million in forfeiture and a $100 special assessment fee.[1] Guatemala's former president, 62 years of age, faced a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine or twice the money involved in the illegal transactions.[2]

On 25 February 2015 Portillo was released from prison in Denver, the US, and returned to Guatemala City.[20][21]


  1. ^ a b c "United States District Judge Robert P. Patterson". United States Department of Justice. 22 May 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Expresidente Portillo se declara culpable ante Corte de EE. UU. Archived 2014-03-23 at the Wayback Machine. Siglo 21, 18 de marzo de 2014.
  3. ^ Jorge Palmieri (3 June 2013). "LA EXTRADICIÓN DE ALFONSO PORTILLO".
  4. ^ Jan McGirk (9 November 1999). "Self-confessed killer leads poll in Guatemala". The Independent (London). Archived from the original on 27 May 2011.
  5. ^ Serge F. Kovaleski (7 November 1999). "A Killer, and Perhaps a President; Candidate With Violent Past Leads in Polls for Today's Guatemalan Vote". The Washington Post. Not only has leading presidential candidate Alfonso Portillo admitted to fatally shooting two men--in what he says was self-defense—during a brawl in Mexico 17 years ago, but he has come close to boasting about it in TV campaign commercials.
  6. ^ Larry Rohter (7 January 1997). "Guatemala Election Becomes Referendum on Former Dictator". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Freedom House (2005). "Freedom in the World 2005: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties". Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. p. 261. ISBN 9780742550513. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  8. ^ ALVARADO, HUGO. "Gestión de Alfonso Portillo inyectó millones al Ejército – Prensa Libre". (in Spanish).
  9. ^ The Associated Press (31 October 2006). "Mexico Authorizes Portillo's Extradition". The Washington Post. The Mexican government has authorized the extradition of ex-Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo to face embezzlement charges in his country, officials said Tuesday. Portillo's defense lawyer said he would immediately appeal.
  10. ^ "Ex presidente Alfonso Portillo viajó a México tras perder inmunidad". La Crónica De Hoy. 19 February 2004.
  11. ^ "Mexico extradites ex Guatemalan leader". International Herald Tribune. 7 October 2008.
  12. ^ Olga Lopez (12 May 2007). "Alfonso Portillo pretende inmunidad". Archived from the original on 13 June 2007.
  13. ^ Buscan a Alfonso Portillo para extraditarlo a Estados Unidos Archived 2011-07-17 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Guatemala ex-president Portillo cleared of wrongdoing". BBC News. BBC. 10 May 2011. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  15. ^ EE. UU. aplaude resolución que permite extradición de Portillo[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ CNN, Portillo primer ex presidente Guatemala juzgado en Estados Unidos Archived 2012-02-23 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "Ex-Guatemalan president extradited to U.S." CNN. 24 May 2013. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  18. ^ Archibold, Randal C. (24 May 2013). "Ex-President Portillo of Guatemala Is Extradited to U.S". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Archibold, Randal C. (24 May 2013). "Ex-Guatemalan President Extradited to U.S. in Corruption Case". New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  20. ^ (in Vietnamese) Cựu tổng thống Guatemala mãn hạn tù ở Mỹ Archived 2015-02-27 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2015-02-28.
  21. ^ Guatemala ex-President Alfonso Portillo freed from US jail. Retrieved 2015-02-28.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by President of Guatemala
Succeeded by