U.S donates helicopters to help Guatemala fight drug trafficking

By Dialogo
November 17, 2013

The ongoing effort by Guatemalan security forces to modernize their equipment received a boost recently when the United States, the Central American country’s partner of choice in the battle against organized crime, donated six helicopters.
The new equipment will help Guatemala in its battle against international drug traffickers, security analysts said.

Improving operational capacity

The donated helicopters are worth an estimated $11 million. The helicopters were not the only equipment the U.S. donated to Guatemala to help fight drug traffickers.
The U.S. also provided night vision devices and other military equipment. In addition to the military equipment, the U.S. gave Guatemala cranes, which will be used to improve the country’s infrastructure. Altogether, the donated equipment is worth about $40 million, according to a press release by the Guatemalan government.
The equipment should help Guatemalan security forces conduct operations against drug traffickers and other organized crime groups, said Adolfo Alarcón, a security analyst at the Guatemalan think tank ASIES.
“Whatever help that strengthens the operational capacity of security forces in Guatemala is welcome,” said Alarcón said. “The [military donations] can help if they are utilized in the framework of a policy and an integral strategy for combatting this problem to modernize the security forces, which don’t have complete resources to stop international drug trafficking.”

The Lorenzana family

In January 2012, Otto Pérez Molina was sworn in as Guatemala’s president. During his inaugural speech, Pérez Molina, who spent 30 years in the Guatemalan Army, vowed to crack down on organized crime and drug traffickers.
Guatemalan security forces have captured several important alleged traffickers since then:
• In September 2013, Guatemalan anti-narcotics agents with the Public Ministry and investigators with the National Civil Police (PNC) captured Waldemar Lorenzana Cordón, who is suspected of being a high-ranking member of the Lorenzana drug trafficking organization. He is the son of Waldemar Lorenzana Lima, the alleged leader of the drug trafficking organization. He is known as “The Patriarch.”
In recent years, the Lorenzana drug trafficking organization has collaoborated with the Sinaloa Cartel, which is led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, to smuggle thousands of tons of cocaine from Guatemala to Mexico and the United States.
• In 2011, Guatemalan security forces captured The Patriarch, at the request of U.S. authorities, who suspect him of working with El Chapo. The Patriarch is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges. In July 2013, a Guatemalan appeals court denied the last of The Patriarch’s legal motions to avoid extradition. An extradition date has not been set.
• Also in 2011, Guatemalan security forces captured another of The Patriarch’s sons, Elio Elixander. He is wanted in the U.S. on federal charges of drug trafficking, conspiracy, and money laundering. No date has been scheduled for his extradition to the U.S.

New alliances and conflicts

Guatemalan security forces have made good progress against the Lorenzana drug trafficking organization, but they must remain vigilant, Alarcón said.
“Since Pérez Molina took power, the government has made some important captures,” the security analyst said. “However, the problem persists and what has happened is simply a reshuffle of the arrangement of forces between national and international drug cartels; new alliances and conflicts between these groups have increased.”
Guatemala is a key transshipment point for international drug traffickers. About 90 percent of the cocaine that drug traffickers smuggle into North America passes through Central America, according to the United Nations Narcotics Control Board.

A vote of confidence

The donations of helicopter and other equipment were “a vote of confidence for Guatemala from the United States,” Pérez Molina said.
The helicopters can seat up to 13 people and have 1,800 horsepower, officials said. They are the same model that U.S. military forces used during the Vietnam War.
The helicopters will allow Guatemalan security forces greater mobility, Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla said.
“We are setting the tone that we are a serious and responsible country that has the capacity to develop whatever process of receiving cooperation on these terms, to mobilize and keep them within the standards that the US demands,” López Bonilla said. “For us it is a great privilege to receive these six helicopters and be able to have greater mobilization.”
The donations of the helicopters and other gear is not the first time the U.S. has provided equipment to Guatemala. In April 2013, the U.S government donated 42 vehicles, J8 Jeeps, to help Guatemala in the shared fight against transnational criminal organizations. The vehicles, which are worth about $5.5 million, were donated to the Ministry of Defense during a visit by Maj. Gen. Frederick S. Rudesheim, the commanding general of U.S. Army South.

Training and operations

The donated helicopters will be used in training and in operations against drug traffickers nad other organized crime groups, López Bonilla explained.
“Principally, there are two things that for us are really key,” López Bonilla said. “The helicopters are (available) for permanent training. And they will give us 24-hour operational capacity. The crews are ready to use night vision visors and have all the tools to fly during the night. We can be in any part of the country as needed, and are not limited by day or night.”
The donated cranes will be used to build landing strips for helicopters and airplanes, Pérez Molina said. “We want to have a strong state that has the framework to stop drug trafficking and international organized crime,” the president said.

Drug seizures

The helicopters and other donated equipment should help Guatemalan security forces seize more drugs, authorities siad.
In 2009, security forces seized 6,936 kilos of cocaine, according to the Interior Ministry. Security forces seized less than half that amount – 3,292 kilos – in 2012, according to the Interior Ministry.
Between January and October 2013, Guatemala security forces seized 2,236, kilos of cocaine, authorities said.