The ‘El Chapo’ of Guatemala Is a Woman
CIUDAD PEDRO DE ALVARADO, Guatemala — With local elections just months away, Mayra Lemus sat down for lunch at the Los Cuernos hotel in Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado, a border town in Guatemala. It was February 18, 2011, and she was running for mayor of the local municipality, which borders El Salvador to the south. She had brought together prominent members of the community as part of her campaigning efforts.
But the attendees had barely finished their entrées when two pickup trucks pulled up filled with heavily armed men, who spilled out of the vehicles brandishing AK-47 rifles and shotguns, according to witnesses. They opened fire before their victims had a chance to move, gunning down eight people—including Mayra and at least one of her bodyguards —where they sat.
Marixa, her younger sister, heard the gunfire from down the road. She jumped into her armored truck and raced toward the fray. Her bodyguards leapt into another truck to follow her, honking the horn, trying to warn her to stop or she would be killed too.
But neither Alegría’s team nor any other part of the Guatemalan justice machinery has charged Marroquín with any crime, despite what they say. Alegría told me that to a certain extent, Marroquín is protected because he’s still in office. For his part, Marroquín said he is a victim of the political establishment, who want rid of him because of his popularity and good deeds. “If I was a narco, I wouldn’t be a politician, I’d be in hiding,” he told me from behind his desk in Moyuta, dressed in a dark blue shirt and gesticulating wildly.
Marixa hates being behind bars. And she does her best to get out as often as possible: Because of her great escapes, she has earned the moniker of Guatemala’s female Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
“There are so few people who have even escaped once, and she has done it twice. And the second time was a military prison. How did she do it?” said my Guatemala City taxi driver as he drove me to the prison where Marixa is now being held.
The first time Marixa escaped was in May 2016, after fellow prisoners reportedly helped her vault over a wall. She was caught within hours, but that didn’t stop her from trying again. The second time, in May 2017, she broke out of the Mariscal Zavala military prison. Better prepared this time, she snuck out wearing a guard’s uniform and got picked up by a waiting car. When the authorities finally caught up with her in El Salvador two weeks later, she had dyed her hair a dark red, like that of her sister Mayra. Her capture was a media sensation: Even the president at the time, Jimmy Morales, tweeted about it.
Both times that she got out, Marroquín was watching, said a source in Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado. “He shakes in his pants when he sees Marixa. He behaves like the big man when he moves around with his bodyguards, but he is very afraid of her. When she got out for the second time, he didn’t leave his house until she was caught—didn’t do a single public act.”
When I told Marixa during a conversation at the Santa Teresa women’s prison this past March, she didn’t even try to hide her delight. A slow smile stretched across her lips.
“I know [Marroquín] is terrified of me because I’m a woman who took the reins and I’m going to avenge myself and all of the family that he took away from me,” she said.
Marixa, now in her late 40s, wore a white Nike cap over her thick, long black hair that was pulled back into a ponytail. Her skin was pale and clear, with a hint of freckles, her brows thick and dark. She had a black Adidas T-shirt over a white, long-sleeved top, and when she emerged from her solitary cell into the bright atrium of the prison to meet me, she blinked in the light.
During the conversation, she oscillated between tears and steely determination. She wept when she talked about her time in solitary confinement, a consequence of her bids for freedom. “Something inside me is drying up in here,” she said. And tears came as she remembered the state of her daughter Jennifer’s body when she was killed in 2006.
“Roberto [Marroquin] was a nobody. He was a simple fisherman. We were a family with a name. The town knew us and respected us,” she said.
Still, Marixa said that she’d never tried to kill Marroquín, as he claims. “They were auto-atentados,” she said, suggesting that he’d staged the attempts on his own life. Another source in Ciudad Pedro Alvarado said the same, and when I repeated that to Alan Ajiatas, Alegría’s deputy at the anti-narcotics prosecutor’s office, he replied: “Well, as a result of the attempts on his life, [Marroquín] did justify buying bulletproof cars, so it’s probable.”
In response, Marroquín laughed at the suggestion that he had faked the attempts on his life.
“When I got out of Mariscal, he said that I was a dangerous woman and that he had to double his security. He came out talking and staining my family’s name when he is himself involved [in these bad things],” said Marixa.
As we talked, she clutched some cardboard folders stuffed with paperwork that she said she was preparing for her lawyer. She told me she was still trying to win her freedom: “I want to reopen my case.”