Guatemalan Army Fights Transnational Crime with Renovated Armored Vehicles

Guatemalan Army  Fights Transnational Crime with Renovated Armored Vehicles

By Dialogo
July 23, 2015

What use are armies? To provoke underdevelopment in countries, kill innocent people, now for drug traffickers, how nice, isn't it. Crime in Latin America is a dangerous reality for those who are healthy and productive. The problem in Venezuela is not related to war, what bothers us is the lack of food.

The Guatemalan Army, working together with the Navy, Air Force, and National Police, is using a fleet of renovated armored vehicles to combat transnational crime and guard the country’s borders.

Guatemala’s Marine Infantry Brigade, the Tecún Umán Inter Agency Task Force (IATF), and the Chortí IATF have used a fleet of modified light armored vehicles and Toyota pick-up trucks to strike several major blows against organized crime groups that traffic drugs and humans through the country’s borders with Mexico and Honduras. The Guatemalan Armed Forces armored and modified the trucks.

“The monopoly of force that the State has accrued with these vehicles has significantly contributed to our mission,” Colonel Ader Bartres García, Commander of the Armed Forces’ Marine Infantry Brigade, said on July 1 during a presentation at the 4th Annual Latin America Armored Vehicles Conference, in Bogotá, Colombia.

Use of armored vehicles declined after civil conflict ended

From 1996 -- the year the Guatemalan Civil War ended -- until 2014, the use of armored vehicles by the Guatemalan Army declined considerably, Colonel Bartres García said.

In the early 1980s, at the height of the internal conflict, the Armed Forces devised and produced their own Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), a 4x4 reinforced vehicle called the Armadillo, which resembles the American Commando LAV-100. Also known as the Cusuco, the Armadillo was ideal for urban warfare and for flat terrains in certain areas of the country. It could be equipped with .50 manually operated turrets, and, more importantly, could resist the guerrillas’ rocket propelled grenades (RPGs).

The Army used Armadillos until the end of the Civil War, when the government reduced its budget and Troop numbers; it didn’t need armored vehicles again until around 2012, when drug-trafficking organizations, including some Mexican cartels such as Los Zetas and La Familia Michoacana, increased their operations in Guatemala, using the country as a transshipment point for drug loads from South America. The new threats posed by these transnational criminal organizations prompted the government to considerably increase the Army’s size and budget, and to create inter-institutional groups capable of guaranteeing public security in border departments such as Petén, San Marcos, Huehuetenango, Quiché, El Progreso, Chiquimula and Izabal.

International cooperation

Shortly thereafter in mid-2013, Guatemala created its Marine Infantry Brigade and the Tecún Umán IATF. The effort received international support, including backing from the United States, which has donated 82 Jeep J8 armored vehicles, 25 pick-ups and nine trucks for the Tecún Umán and Chortí IATF units. Those vehicles have been continuously deployed in the fight against drug cartels, human smugglers and transnational criminal organizations; their speed and maneuverability on uneven terrain in border areas have made them integral to the Task Forces and the Army’s success, according to Colonel Bartres García.

In just a few months after its creation, the Tecún Umán IATF, which has a fleet of 42 J8s, dismantled nine criminal structures in the northern part of the country before dealing several more blows against international smugglers and drug traffickers in 2014.

Since then, on January 23, a Tecún Umán IATF-led operation resulted in the interdiction of 12.7 tons of amphetamines valued at nearly $1.2 billion. Troops found the drugs in a shack in the city of La Blanca, in the department of San Marcos, which borders Mexico.

Meanwhile in southern Guatemala, the Chortí IATF, whose fleet is made up of 46 J8s, has teamed with their Honduran counterparts as part of the binational Maya-Chortí Task Force. The collaboration reaped success in April 2015, about a month after it was formed, when forces captured 15 suspects and identified 62 drug and human-trafficking routes used by criminal organizations in the border region.