On May 7, 2018, the Guatemalan Ministry of National Defense, in a combined operation with the U.S. Coast Guard, intercepted a merchant vessel 300 nautical miles off the Pacific coast of Puerto Quetzal in international waters. During the inspection, authorities seized 3 tons of cocaine. This is the largest drug cargo ever seized in the fight against narcotrafficking in Guatemala.
“This seizure is historical. The operations we conducted with U.S. government antinarcotics units had more than 15 days of planning and development,” Guatemalan Minister of Government Enrique Degenhart told the press. “We expect to increase the amount of drugs seized, which is a record on a regional level.”
The Guatemalan Army works closely with the U.S. Coast Guard in the fight against the trafficking and transfer of drugs between Central America, Mexico, and the United States. Thanks to combined operations, Guatemala seized 13.7 tons of cocaine in 2017, a record for the country. In the first five months of 2018, the Guatemalan Army already seized 5.7 tons of cocaine worth $79 million—36 percent more than the same period in the previous year, according to the Ministry of Government.
“In just six months, we are about to exceed the total seizures of 2017,” Guatemalan Minister of National Defense Luis Miguel Ralda told the press. “We conduct combined operations with other nations. As a result, we seized more than 5,000 packages of cocaine.”
The Guatemalan Army and National Civil Police carried out drug seizures in several operations during 2018. Among others, the Police seized 450 kilograms of cocaine in a container that arrived at Santo Tomás de Castilla port in the department of Izabal. The drug was hidden in a vessel coming from Cartagena, Colombia. In April, military personnel intercepted a ton of cocaine on a submarine in the Pacific, and on May 28th, police agents destroyed 74,000 coca plants in Cobán, department of Alta Verapaz.
“This was the first time in Guatemala’s history that a coca field was found, along with a lab to transform it into cocaine. No illegal fields were ever found in Guatemala before. It had 75,000 coca bushes,” Police spokesperson Pablo Castillo said.
Guatemala attributes the success to combined and interagency work between partner nations. “I would like to reiterate that we are continuously fighting against drug trafficking thanks to the support of U.S. antidrug units, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Government [of Guatemala],” Degenhart added.
In its 2019 budget, the National Ministry of Defense earmarked $360 million to improve border security, fight organized crime, and strengthen interinstitutional support, defense mobilization, and disaster mitigation, Ralda said. The budget, he added, will also serve to protect strategically important areas, thwart illegal airstrips, and provide help for disaster response, such as for the eruption of the Fuego Volcano on June 3, 2018. “To increase disaster response and send help to strategic places, we built nine warehouses with the support of the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Security Cooperation of the,” he said.
The police and Office of the Attorney General conducted a follow-up operation in the fight against drug trafficking groups on June 13th, in western Guatemala. Authorities carried out 50 raids coordinated by the District Attorney’s Office for Drug Crimes in the departments of San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Retalhuleu, and Suchitepéquez.
During the operation, authorities seized 20 vehicles, 12 firearms, and grenades, as well as cocaine, amphetamines, and marijuana. “The goal of the operation is to disrupt a structure which, according to the investigation, is linked to illicit drug trade, trafficking, and storage,” Ralda concluded.