Guatemala Arrests 22 Members of Mexican Los Zetas Cartel
By Dialogo December 28, 2010
Guatemalan security forces landed a heavy blow against one of the Mexican drug-trafficking cartels operating in the country when they detained twenty-two of its members, including the alleged leader in the area, the government announced.
With the arrest of four alleged members of the Mexican paramilitary drug-trafficking group “Los Zetas,” the Guatemalan police crowned an operation that included the seizure of 239 rifles, twenty-eight all-terrain vehicles, five small planes, ammunition, and explosives, the Interior Ministry specified.
The arrests and seizures took place after Guatemala decreed the suspension of constitutional guarantees, a day after placing the border department of Alta Verapaz, around two hundred kilometers north of the capital, under a state of emergency.
Soldiers and police officers have been sent there to combat growing criminal activity by Mexican gangs.
“These individuals were not preparing to confront the security forces; they were preparing to take over the country,” Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom told reporters after authorizing the emergency measures.
Government reports indicate that “Los Zetas” were practically governing the area, appropriating rural properties and committing assaults and rapes.
Those arrested include a former member of the Guatemalan military, José Armando León, once a member of the Kaibiles, an elite army unit trained for counterinsurgency operations and used during the prolonged civil war that the country suffered.
The authorities suspect León of being the head of the group active in Alta Verapaz.
Around eight hundred members of Los Zetas are believed to operate in Guatemala, a third of them Mexicans, according to official investigations. Although their chief area of influence is located in Alta Verapaz, the organization is calculated to have freedom of movement in about 75 percent of the country’s territory.
Los Zetas, who originated ten years ago as a group of hitmen in the service of the Mexican Gulf Cartel, have become a criminal organization in themselves, with thousands of members and a strong presence in Central America.
Analysts and high-ranking officials affirm that Mexican cartels are buying land, warehousing weapons, and contracting members of criminal networks throughout Central America to help them to transport and sell drugs.