Los Zetas brutality revealed in Guatemala trial
By Dialogo February 27, 2014
The trial of nine men accused of massacring 27 people in the northern Guatemalan department of Peten in May 2011 provided chilling insight into the violent methods of the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas.
Witnesses in the trial, which was held in one of Guatemala’s new, high-security Courts for High Risk Crimes included survivors of the massacre, who described finding the bodies of men, women and children, most of whom had been tortured and decapitated.
The nine defendants in the Peten massacre trial include three Mexican nationals and six Guatemalans. The judge found each of the defendants guilty of the killings, and on Feb. 21, 2014, sentenced them to prison sentences ranging from 106 to 110 years and eight months in prison.
A terrible massacre
The massacre occurred on the night of May 14, 2011 and in the early morning hours of May 15. At least thirty armed men dressed in military-style uniforms arrived at the farming village of Los Cocos in Peten department, about 500 kilometers north of Guatemala City. They were looking for farm owner Otto Salguero, prosecutors said. The men, Los Zetas operatives, believed Salguero was stealing cocaine from the organized crime group and also working with the rival Gulf Cartel (CDG).
Unable to find Salguero, the men tortured and killed 27 innocent farm workers and their family members one by one, leaving their headless bodies scattered on the ground.
The killers made no attempt to hide Los Zetas’ involvement. A threatening message written on a wall in the victims’ blood referred to “Z-200,” a reference to Mauricio Guizar Cardenas, also known as “Z-200” and “The Yellow One.” He is a Mexican national who allegedly founded Los Zetas in Guatemala.
The Yellow One was the alleged founder of the Guatemalan Los Zetas group. Mexican Marines captured The Yellow One in July 2012. The Yellow One and another Los Zetas operative in Guatemala, Jairo Orellana Morales, who is known as “El Pelon,” ordered the massacre, authorities said.
After the massacre, then-Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom declared a state of emergency in Peten department and Guatemalan security forces staged a series of raids and arrests against suspected members of Los Zetas. Security forces captured dozens of alleged Los Zetas operatives, including Hugo Alvaro Gomez Vasquez, who is known as “Commander Witch.” Los Zetas operatives retaliated by kidnapping and murdering a prosecutor in the massacre case and then leaving his dismembered body parts in public view.
In June 2012 a Guatemalan court convicted 36 members of Los Zetas for various crimes, including the murder of the prosecutor, and sentenced them to prison for up to 158 years. Some of the defendants in the current trial for the 2011 massacre in Peten, including Commander Witch, were among those convicted in that 2012 trial.
Inside story of Los Zetas in Guatemala
During the recent trial, one witness, a former Los Zetas operatives, testified that Los Zetas came to Guatemala in 2003. Los Zetas in Guatemala had two top commanders, who appointed sub-commanders, the witness testified. Los Zetas paid Guatemalan recruits $1,700 a month to fight rival organized crime groups and engage in drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, homicide, and other crimes. The witness was only identified as “Witness B” for security reasons. He said he left Los Zetas in 2012 because he feared for his life.
Los Zetas was founded in the late 1990s by Mexican Army and Federal Police deserters. Los Zetas was originally formed to serve as the armed wing of the CDG. In 2010, Los Zetas broke away from the CDG and became its own transnational criminal organization.
In recent years, the discipline of Los Zetas suffered as the cartel expanded its operations and recruited not just people with military experience, but members of Guatemalan street gangs, such as Mara Salvatruha (MS-13).
A victory for Guatemala’s justice system
The convictions of the Los Zetas operatives who killed the 27 farmworkers in Peten shows that Guatemalan security forces can use intelligence to strike strong blows against the transnational criminal organization, said Martin Barron, a security analyst at the National Institute of Penal Sciences (INACIPE) in Mexico City.
“The challenge for Guatemalan security services is to verify the information provided by captured Los Zetas operatives,” Barron said. “If they verify the information, they can forcefully hit the structure of Los Zetas in Guatemala.”
The trials, convictions of the Los Zetas defendants is also a victory for Guatemala’s new system of Courts for High Risk Crimes, which were created in 2009 to hear cases in which judges, prosecutors and witnesses might be subject to violence or intimidation, Barron said.
Los Zetas is known for committing horrible and spectacular acts of violence.
For example, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas in 2010, members of Los Zetas killed 72 undocumented Central and South American immigrants – 58 men and 14 women -- allegedly because they thought they were going to work for the rival CDG. Guatemalan authorities believe that members of Los Zetas, both Mexican and Guatemalan, have been responsible for a dozen mass killings in Guatemala in recent years, resulting in at least 100 deaths.
“Los Zetas is known for committing horrible acts of violence,” Barron said. “Los Zetas operatives consider brutal violence to be part of their job. They commit violence to expand their drug trafficking enterprise. That is why they killed the farmworkers in 2011.”
The arrests and trials of dozens of Los Zetas members in Guatemala, including those in the Peten massacre trial, have delivered a strong blow against the criminal organization, analysts say. Although Los Zetas remains an active force in the country, its influence has been greatly diminished.
The trials are also seen as a victory for Guatemala’s new system of Courts for High Risk Crimes, which were created in 2009 to hear cases in which judges, prosecutors and witnesses might be subject to violence or intimidation.
Julieta Pelcastre contributed to this article.
Well done, I congratulate you on this type of journalism. And where's the death penalty? Why do the Guatemalan people have to feed these scumbags? In order to have a healthier society and a better future for the youth in every country, organized crime and drug trafficking have to be dealt with more forcefully. Why are you letting them live, kill them. It's good that they hit that organization hard. Those people have to be stopped once and for all, they killed innocent people with no hesitation, they are heartless. I agree with you, my friend.