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Mar 2, 2009 | 19:38 GMT

3 mins read

Guatemala: Expanding Influence of the Cartels

ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Summary
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom reportedly has received death threats from Los Zetas, a primary Mexican drug cartel. Due to the capability and the will of the Mexican drug cartels — especially Los Zetas — these threats should be taken seriously.
The Guatemalan Intelligence Secretariat (SAE) said March 1 that the National Civil Police emergency phone number, 110, received three calls threatening Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom's life. The SAE also said they have reason to believe these threats came from Los Zetas, one of the principal Mexican drug cartels — known for its brutality and ability to follow through on its promises. Los Zetas was confirmed to be operating in Guatemala in April 2008, when Guatemalan police arrested the group's second-in-command, Daniel "El Cachetes" Perez Rojas during a firefight with a rival drug cartel. The interior minister and the head of the National Civil Police received threatening calls from an individual with a Mexican accent demanding Perez Rojas' release. This is not to say that Perez Rojas was behind these recent calls to the National Civil Police emergency number; however, Los Zetas has used this tactic in the past and this incident is likely a continuation of the group's tactics at a higher level. Los Zetas has increased its operations in Guatemala since the end of 2007 due to the increasing significance of the land-based narcotics shipping route that runs through the Central American country. These land-based shipping routes through Central America have gained importance since the effective maritime and aerial interdiction campaigns by the U.S. and Mexican governments. As Los Zetas looks to secure these routes, it will likely use the same brutal tactics used by the various Mexican cartels, including the assassination of high-level Mexican law enforcement officials. However, this is not the first time a Central American president has received threats on his life from an organized crime group. The Mara Salvatrucha gang, prevalent throughout Central America and the United States and an ally of Los Zetas, put a contract hit on Honduran President Ricardo Maduro in early January 2005. Maduro had waged a "war" of sorts against the Maras gang when he came into office in 2002, prompting the contract on his life. Similarly, Colom had launched an offensive against Los Zetas in the northwestern regions of Guatemala in November 2007, which resulted in the arrest of 10 additional high-value Los Zetas operatives. Recent examples in Mexico and Honduras have demonstrated that when groups such as Los Zetas are pressured by government forces, they respond violently and with excessive force. Los Zetas also has a long-standing relationship with Los Kaibiles — former Guatemalan Special Forces troops with deep connections inside the Guatemalan government. Additionally, this is not the first time President Colom has been the target of organized crime tactics. In September 2008, Colom claimed that as many as seven listening devices had been planted in his home and personal office by members of the Strategic Analysis Secretariat at the behest of drug traffickers. Corruption is as prevalent in Guatemala as it is in Mexico — if not more so — and with organized crime elements able to infiltrate the president's home and personal office, they have shown that they have the ability to reach the highest levels of the Guatemalan state and threaten its stability. Intimidation is a central tenet of operations for Mexican cartels, especially Los Zetas. Although there have not been any significant assassination campaigns in Guatemala, Los Zetas has demonstrated repeatedly in Mexico that it possesses the capability and the will to follow through with these types of threats.

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