Los Zetas Crackdown Ordered by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina
By Dialogo February 20, 2012
Los Zetas will be the target of an all-out offensive by the military, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina announced within hours of his Jan. 14 inauguration.
The retired army general called on the military “to coordinate and cooperate with the other security forces to neutralize organized crime through ground, air and maritime control.”
In a speech to the armed forces, Pérez Molina said the Los Zetas drug cartel is trying to take over Guatemala’s drug trade by co-opting or killing local narcotics traffickers. The president pledged to provide the different branches of the military with ground vehicles, speedboats and aircraft to help them battle the transnational criminal organization.
Pérez Molina campaigned on the promise that he would attack crime with an “iron fist.” He promised voters tough action against Los Zetas and violent crime. In 2011, Guatemala had about 41 homicides per 100,000 residents, making the country the fourth most murderous in the world. With a population of about 14 million, Guatemala averages about 16 homicides every day.
The president pledged to mobilize 2,500 troops to confront Los Zetas and any other Mexican drug cartels conducting criminal activities in Guatemala. Pérez Molina also promised to recruit, train, and hire an additional 10,000 police officers.
The new president’s crackdown on violent crime is not limited to drug cartels. On Jan. 24, Pérez Molina announced the creation of two police units to prevent the kidnapping and murder of women. In 2011, said officials, 700 women were killed in Guatemala because of their gender.
Previous military offensives against transnational criminal organizations
In the past two years, Guatemala has mobilized the military on several occasions for specific missions against organized crime groups. In July 2010, about 500 troops were sent into Guatemala City to help the civilian police force. The military was sent in to regain control of the capital after a series of violent incidents, including an arson attack on a bus.
In December 2010, outgoing President Álvaro Colom granted the army special powers to enter the northern Guatemala department of Alta Verapaz, which had been taken over by Los Zetas.
Pérez Molina’s military assault on Los Zetas echoes the efforts of Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Upon being sworn into office in December 2006, Calderón ordered the Mexican Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to join federal, state and local police in confronting organized criminal groups.
Since the drug war began, the Mexican military has killed or captured dozens of cartel leaders, taken down a sophisticated telecommunications system developed by Los Zetas and disrupted some key drug smuggling routes. The successes of the Mexican military are forcing Los Zetas and other drug cartels to move operations elsewhere, an analyst said.
“The pressure the Mexican government has placed on the drug cartels prompts them to go to Central America where they can move at ease due to the limited ability of security forces in those countries,” said Günther Maihold, holder of the Guillermo and Alejandro Von Humboldt Chair at the College of Mexico, in the Federal District.
It will be a challenge for Guatemala and other Central American countries to counteract incursions by Los Zetas and other drug cartels, Maihold said.
Guatemala is increasingly being used as a major hub for cocaine transit from Colombia through Guatemala to Mexico and on to the United States.
“Guatemala’s geography exacerbates the problem as the country is caught in the crossfire between the world’s biggest producers of coca [the Andean countries] and the world’s biggest consumers of cocaine [North America],” according to a recent by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC).
Military approach to fighting organized crime
Guatemala is the third country in the region to follow Mexico in ordering the military to tackle the drug cartels. In November, the Honduran Congress authorized the armed forces to go after drug cartels. Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate, and much of the violence is attributed to increased activities by Mexican drug cartels. In addition, El Salvador has used its military to fight street gangs, some of which collaborate with drug cartels.
Both Mexico and the United States are collaborating closely in the war against transnational criminal organizations, said Maihold, adding that Guatemala will need a similar level of cooperation with both countries to make inroads against organized crime.
“Guatemala will need support to fight the impunity [of the cartels] with a reform of the judicial system, so that the state authorities can take decisive actions,” said Maihold. “The money needed for this should be generated by Guatemala, with some support from the U.S.”
Mexico and Guatemala should share police and military intelligence and cooperate in fighting money laundering by the cartels, Maihold said, suggesting that Guatemalan officials also launch drug education campaigns to try to prevent the country from becoming a major consumer market.
I wish that these operations have a good ending for the authorities struggling with decency and honesty for the safety of residents, wherever they do this, especially in Central America where there is a chilling number of dead, I would ask you as a father and brother of staff in safety to be cautious, and have a lot of caution when they participate in armed clashes. Thank God I have not lost anyone from my family, and I hope that this will never happen, but you never know until it happens, please much caution.