State of Emergency Lifted in Guatemalan Department on Border with Mexico

By Dialogo
February 24, 2011

On 18 February, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom lifted the state of emergency he decreed in December to combat drug trafficking in the region of Alta Verapaz, in northern Guatemala on the border with Mexico, which considerably reduced violence in the area.

The president was delighted with the results obtained since 19 December, although he acknowledged that organized-crime groups, especially the Mexican Los Zetas cartel, will continue to lurk.

“We’re conscious of the fact that these criminals are waiting for us to withdraw in order to return, but no unit of the security forces will withdraw” from that jungle region, Colom affirmed at a press conference in Cobán, the departmental capital.

The Guatemalan president said, looking forward, that he will promote a strategy to guarantee security in the country’s municipalities and departments, which could begin in Cobán.

Colom decreed the state of emergency on 19 December in order to try to rescue seventeen Mayan towns from the claws of the drug traffickers.

Alta Verapaz forms part of the almost one thousand kilometers of border that Guatemala shares with Mexico, and according to the authorities, Los Zetas have controlled a large part of its 8,686 square kilometers of territory, 220 kilometers north of the capital, for the last year.

The area is part of the drug route that runs from northern Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to the United States.

Interior Minister Carlos Menocal affirmed that homicides and attempted homicides decreased 57% during the period, while robberies fell from 172 to 28.

“Two months before the state of emergency, there were thirty-six homicides and attempted homicides at the departmental level, and two months later, it’s down to sixteen; this is an encouraging figure that gives us hope, because we have over 50% fewer murders,” Menocal affirmed.

He added that now “we need to investigate the causes that continue to generate these murders using firearms, which could be common crime, robbery, or also illicit associations or organized crime.”

While the state of emergency, which suspended constitutional rights, was in effect, a score of people linked to drug trafficking were detained, and forty-eight vehicles and over eighty machine guns and assault rifles were seized.