Guatemala’s Pérez: Cartels fight for smuggling routes

By Dialogo
January 15, 2013

GUATEMALA CITY – Powerful Mexican drug cartels in Guatemala have waged war for control of smuggling routes and are penetrating state institutions, President Otto Pérez said.
Pérez said Los Zetas, considered the bloodiest Mexican criminal group, dominates two of the three major narco-trafficking routes in the region and is engaged in a turf war against the Sinaloa cartel for control of the third.
Los Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel have bolstered their partnerships with Guatemalan gangs, turning the Central American nation into a transshipment point for narcotics.
“Intelligence work has determined Mexican cartels keep expanding into Guatemala,” Pérez said. “They have infiltrated several institutions, including police stations, and have gotten to some judges.”
Guatemala recently strengthened its police force with the hiring of an additional 664 policemen trained in field techniques and tactics.
“This will give us an operational capability within our country and improve security along the borders Guatemala shares with El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Mexico,” Pérez said.
There are about 25,000 police officers in Guatemala, which has a population of about 14.3 million.
Pérez said narco-traffickers fatally burned seven people, including an attorney, in the municipality of Huehuetenango, near the border with Mexico, on Dec. 23.
“Gangs are used in some activities of interest to drug traffickers, such as vehicle thefts, killings or drug dealing,” he added.
Guatemala shares nearly 1,000 miles of border with Mexico. The border region is forested and permeated by hundreds of members of illegal groups, Pérez said.
But Guatemala has bolstered its narcotics fight through its participation in Operation Martillo, an international mission that gathers Western Hemisphere and European nations in an effort to curtail illicit trafficking routes on both coasts of the Central American isthmus.
Nearly 90% of the cocaine that reaches the United States comes through Mexico and Central America, according the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board.
Meantime, violence struck Guatemala again on Jan. 14, when Carlos Enrique Castillo Medrano, the mayor of the eastern town of Jutiapa, was fatally shot inside a barbershop.
Castillo Medrano, 39, died at a nearby hospital after being shot six times by two killers, who fled on a motorcycle.
The killing came just after Pérez had complimented the Central American nation for a decline in violence, as there were 5,174 homicides in the country in 2012, 526 fewer than in 2011, Pérez said.
Still, Guatemala is home to an average of 16 homicides a day, giving it one of the highest murder rates in Latin America.
[AFP (Guatemala), 13/01/2013; BBC (Guatemala), 14/01/2013; El Occidental (Mexico), 13/01/2013; El Universo (Ecuador), 12/01/2013]