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Guatemala Candidate Admits Killing

September 7, 1999

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ America gave Bill Clinton grief for trying marijuana. That was nothing. A leading presidential candidate in Guatemala shocked the country this week by admitting he killed two men in Mexico, then fled to avoid trial.

Alfonso Portillo, the candidate for the right-wing Guatemalan Republican Front, said he had acted in self-defense in 1982 when he shot and killed two men and wounded another in a fight in the Guerrero state capital of Chilpancingo.

``I’m ready to have my life investigated and I have nothing to hide,″ Portillo said at a news conference Monday. ``I have made mistakes like any human being, and I accept my responsibility.″

Portillo said that when he was a professor at the Guerrero Autonomous University in Mexico, he became involved in a fight between political adversaries outside a party. He said that when a group of law students attacked him, he opened fire.

He was charged with murder, but didn’t show up for the hearing.

The statute of limitations ran out years ago, and authorities closed the case. Survivor Gustavo Encarnacion, now Chilpancingo’s local historian, told Guatemalan newspapers that he is not interested in reopening the case. Several local newspapers had reported on the story before Portillo held his news conference.

``It’s easy to explain,″ said Portillo’s chief campaign strategist, Hugo Pena. ``Portillo was at the law school, and the political opposition was in power. If he had submitted to the law, they would have accused him of whatever they wanted. It wouldn’t have been justice.″

Portillo was traveling outside of Guatemala Tuesday, and political opponents jumped to condemn the presidential candidate.

``In the United States, they are questioning Gov. (George W.) Bush about drug consumption. Here we are talking about the deaths of two people,″ said Roberto Gonzalez Flores, campaign coordinator for the ruling National Advancement Party.

Vitalino Similoux, running for vice president for the New Nation Alliance, a leftist coalition, said Portillo should have gone to trial.

``Portillo showed neither courage nor honesty by not presenting himself before the law,″ he said. ``Independent of his motives, he should have cleared his name and not escaped.″

Portillo is a leading candidate in the Nov. 7 election, according to the latest poll. The poll, released Aug. 25 by the Costa Rican firm Borge and Associates, gave Portillo 33 percent of the vote and the ruling party’s Oscar Berger Perdomo 30 percent. There was a three percent margin of error.

If no candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote, the elections will be decided in a run-off on Dec. 26.

Portillo’s admissions, which appeared in Guatemalan newspapers Monday and Tuesday, were the first controversy of his campaign. Pena called the investigations that led to the admission politically motivated.

While human rights organizations have accused many members of his party of human rights abuses during Guatemala’s bloody 36-year civil war, Portillo hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing.

Rights groups are currently forming a genocide case against Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala from 1982-83 and is now the Front candidate for president of Congress.

Guatemala’s civil war, which ended with a treaty between the government and leftist rebels in 1996, was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of over 200,000 people, mostly poor Indians.

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