Guatemala - Personal background

Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera is the son of a rural teacher. During his youth, he was sympathetic to the leftist forces fighting in his country. Later, he described his leftist sympathies as youthful indiscretions, and came to describe himself as a social democrat. A lawyer and economist, he has been a university professor, both in Guatemala and abroad. He favors the death penalty to combat high crime levels in his country. One of the most violent episodes in his private life became a major symbol in his populist law and order presidential campaign in 1999. During the campaign, Portillo was forced to admit that he killed two men during a confrontation in the Mexican state of Guerrero and fled the country to avoid prosecution in 1982. Portillo, a law professor at the Guerrero Autonomous University of Mexico at the time, said he fled because he feared he would be prosecuted unjustly. Instead of being reviled for the killings, many Guatemalans admired him for his act. One of his most prominent ads for his campaign proclaimed: "Portillo. If he can defend himself, he can defend you and your family."

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