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Correction to This Article
A Jan. 8 article about former Latin American presidents being held under house arrest during criminal investigations failed to note that two former presidents of Costa Rica, Miguel Angel Rodriguez and Rafael Angel Calderon, are in prison.
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Facing Charges, Not Discomforts

Nicaragua's Aleman has become a particularly potent symbol of the abuse of power. His personal fortune ballooned while he headed a nation where many people earn less than $2 a day. Prosecutors produced records showing that he and his wife charged massive sums to government credit cards, including a $13,755 bill for the Ritz Carlton hotel in Bali and $68,506 for hotel expenses and handicrafts in India.

Aleman, 58, is suffering from several ailments, many of them related to his obesity, his attorneys say. It was on medical grounds that the presiding judge allowed him to return last year to his leafy hacienda, where he is free to receive visitors and chat on his cell phone.


The U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, John Hamilton, and his wife, Donna, were among 300 guests at the wedding of Zury Rios Sosa to U.S. Rep. Gerald C. Weller (R-Ill.), at her father's mansion in Antigua.


In Chile, the most notorious of former Latin American leaders is also under house arrest at a country estate outside Santiago. Gen. Augusto Pinochet, 89, was charged last year with the murder and kidnappings of exiled opponents while he headed a military government from 1973 to 1990.

At least 1,200 people who were detained by the armed forces and secret police during that era have disappeared and are presumed dead. Among the charges against Pinochet is the Sept. 21, 1976, car bomb killing of former foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his aide, Ronni Moffitt, on Sheridan Circle in Northwest Washington.

In Mexico, former president Luis Echeverria is the target of a special prosecutor's probe into the killings of students and other anti-government activists during his term from 1970 to 1976. Last summer, the prosecutor asked a judge to issue an arrest warrant charging Echeverria with genocide. The judge refused.

While the prosecutor has vowed to continue pressing criminal charges, Echeverria, 82, lives in his comfortable home in Cuernavaca, a plush weekend retreat south of Mexico City.

Another former president of Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo, is also under criminal investigation and has fled to Mexico. Guatemalan authorities have asked the United States for help in tracking Portillo's financial transactions. Meanwhile, his vice president, finance minister and other top officials in his administration are in jail on corruption charges.

Here in Antigua, renowned for its cobblestone streets and stunning views of high volcanoes, news of Rios Montt hosting a wedding bash while under house arrest was particularly galling.

Rios Montt's daughter, Zury Rios Sosa, a Guatemalan senator, married Rep. Gerald C. Weller (R-Ill.), in November, and Rios Montt hosted the party at his expansive weekend home. John Hamilton, the U.S. ambassador, was among those in attendance.

"People with power can buy the law," said Miguel Angel Lopez, 49, who was standing outside the former dictator's mansion, which is guarded by a 250-foot-long stone wall capped by a double coil of razor wire. A sprawling lawn is visible when guards open the gate.

There was nothing illegal about Rios Montt hosting the party. Victor Hugo Herrera, the judge in the case, said in an interview that Rios Montt asked for permission to travel 30 miles from his house in Guatemala City to the mansion in Antigua for "political reasons." He said he later saw in a newspaper that Rios Montt had gone there for his daughter's wedding.

Herrera said he granted the request because Rios Montt had "been complying with the rules" of his confinement. He said the rules allow him to leave his house, provided he stays within Guatemala City, but that travel outside the capital requires permission.

He is under house arrest, the judge said, after being charged with organizing a riot by thousands of his supporters in Guatemala City in July 2003 in which a Guatemalan journalist died.

Human rights activists here said that charging Rios Montt in that "Black Thursday" riot was akin to charging Al Capone with tax evasion. "He is a symbol of genocide," said LaRue, the human rights official.

But the attorney general's three-member task force, which is looking into what many have called Rios Montt's "scorched-earth campaign" to root out anti-government insurgents, faces a daunting task.

One of the prosecutors, Sandra Sosa Stewart, said the task force was working with declassified U.S. government documents and examining bones unearthed in ongoing exhumations of mass graves found throughout the country. "We don't have enough people," she said. "We don't even have Internet access."

Despite the difficulties, Juan Luis Pons, another human rights activist, said criminal investigations of former Latin American leaders, including Rios Montt, constitute a "a small light giving people hope" that presidents are no longer above the law.

Still, he added, the sight of a former dictator under criminal investigation and house arrest hosting a wedding for 300 people, including an A-list of Guatemala's elite, "shows that justice is still politicized in Latin America."


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