View Full Version : Guatemalan military seizes drug-plagued province

20 Dec 10,, 05:51
Guatemalan military seizes drug-plagued province

Guatemalan military seizes drug-plagued province - Yahoo! News (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101220/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/lt_guatemala_state_of_siege)

By JUAN CARLOS LLORCA, Associated Press Juan Carlos Llorca, Associated Press – Sun Dec 19, 8:31 pm ET

COBAN, Guatemala – The Guatemalan military declared a state of siege Sunday in a northern province that authorities say has been overtaken by Mexican drug traffickers.

The government initiated the monthlong measure in the Alta Verapaz province to reclaim cities that have been taken over by the Zetas drug gang, Ronaldo Robles, a spokesman for Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom, told radio station Emisoras Unidas.

"It is to bring peace to the people and recover their confidence in the government," he said.

A state of siege allows the army to detain suspects without warrants, conduct warrantless searches, prohibit gun possession and public gatherings, and control the local news media. Guatemalan law allows the measure amid acts of terrorism, sedition or "rebellion," or when events "put the constitutional order or security of the state in danger."

The state of siege was put in place for 30 days, but "will last as long as necessary," Colom told Emisoras Unidas. He asked citizens to trust and cooperate with authorities.

The Zetas are a group of ex-soldiers who started as hit men for the Gulf drug cartel before breaking off on their own, quickly becoming one of Mexico's most violent gangs and spreading a reign of terror into Central America. They are notorious for their brutality, having pioneered the now-widespread practice of beheading rivals and officials.

In addition to drugs, The Zetas have branched out into all manner of organized crime activity: extorting businesses; smuggling oil stolen from pipelines; controlling the sale of pirated CDs and DVDs; and charging migrants "fees" to pass through their territory.

The cartel is blamed for some of the worst of Mexico's soaring drug violence — including the massacre in August of 72 migrants who refused to join their ranks. An ongoing turf war with their former allies, the Gulf cartel, has terrorized much of the northeastern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.

In Guatemala, Robles said numerous cities in Alta Verapaz province have been overrun by drug traffickers and that the government decided it was time to take them back.

Anti-drug agents wearing ski masks to hide their identity patrolled the streets of the provincial capital, Coban, on Sunday.

Police officers and soldiers searched at least 16 homes and offices, as well as all vehicles entering and exiting the city, the government said on its website.

Gudy Rivera, a congressman from the opposition Patriotic Party, said the government's action came too late.

The state of siege also is meaningless "if we continue to have police corruption, a weak justice system and weak jails," added David Martinez Amador, an analyst and expert on criminal behavior.

Guatemalan news media have reported that the local population lives in fear of drug traffickers, who they say roam the streets in all-terrain vehicles and armed with assault weapons. Some were forced to give up their property to the traffickers, according to the reports.

A leaked Oct. 28, 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City described a proposal by Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan to control the violence in that country by calling a type of state of emergency suspending some constitutional rights in several cities.

Then-Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont batted down the idea, and in the cable, then-Charge d'Affaires John Feeley said that U.S. government analysis showed the benefits were "uncertain at best, and the political costs appear high."

20 Dec 10,, 05:52
uncertain at best, and the political costs appear high."

Not everyone welcomes this move, given abuse by the military during the civil war

25 Dec 10,, 21:55
My home town's police chief was gunned down last night by drug gangs. RIP.

25 Dec 10,, 22:27
Present Arms! I'm sorry to read that, Andy. These are tough days south of the Rio Grande. Guatemala and Honduras have even less resources at their disposal for self-protection. I suspect in the years to come that Spanish language studies will see a considerable uptick at the Defense Language Institute.

25 Dec 10,, 22:46
RIP. I'm afraid things might get worse before they get better.

25 Dec 10,, 22:49
Thanks S2.

The real sad thing is that the assassination is not "a news" anymore.

Spanish language studies will see a considerable uptick at the Defense Language Institute.

I hope so as the government plans to expand the army next year from 17,000 to 21,000 -- A still very small sum for a country of 14.5 million I might add

26 Dec 10,, 02:23
I suspect in the years to come that Spanish language studies will see a considerable uptick at the Defense Language Institute.

Probably start up courses in Quiche again.

26 Dec 10,, 04:34
"Probably start up courses in Quiche again."

I think you're correct that a lot of Indians, in particular, don't speak Spanish. I'll largely defer to Andy here but there's a real regional problem brewing.

What they're experiencing in Guatemala likely has a bleedover effect into Chiapas and vice versa. Probably as far west as Oaxaca and east into the Yucatan.

Then you've got rural peasant rights issues that's a continuing carryover from the Zapatista movement. It's a real stew whose lid is starting to not just simmer but blow off. I've read Mexico lost more than 30,000 civilians in the narco-wars since late 2006. That's no less than 7500 per year but almost certainly escalating by any scale.

Hell. Who am I kidding? It's damned near everything south of the Rio Grande reaching right down as far south as Peru. Maybe Bolivia. We're complicit because of the drug demand and so, increasingly, also Europe and Africa Large coca routes now run in those directions too. We've also got, obviously, a border control issue that's out of whack.

Afghanistan is small beans compared to what's just over the horizon.

26 Dec 10,, 04:59
This also makes me wonder what will happen to the veteran terrorists of today, after the whole Salafist movement caves in ideologically. I'm worried that they'll start selling their services to whatever will be the next terrorist/militant/separatists of twenty years from now, become enforcers for the drug cartels and such, or go into the narco business themselves (like FARC did).

26 Dec 10,, 06:05
I think you're correct that a lot of Indians, in particular, don't speak Spanish. I'll largely defer to Andy here but there's a real regional problem brewing.

Taking the course sometimes won't help. In some villages they will refuse to speak Quiche to any "white" person. They or some spokesperson will talk to you Spanish or English but they will refuse to talk to you in Quiche.

What they're experiencing in Guatemala likely has a bleedover effect into Chiapas and vice versa. Probably as far west as Oaxaca and east into the Yucatan.

Then you've got rural peasant rights issues that's a continuing carryover from the Zapatista movement. It's a real stew whose lid is starting to not just simmer but blow off

My friends who were burned out month before last say it wasn't so much about wildlife conservation. It was the boiling over of underlying tensions, grievances over 400 years old. Include lack of local representation, throw in tales of the Kaibiles and now the government IS the enemy.

26 Dec 10,, 06:12
Looks like you know a lot about the region. That's good. With Andy and you, we should have some good discussions going forward. This thing isn't going onto any backburner anytime soon. It's only going to get worse.

26 Dec 10,, 06:26
Prez Colom has been calling for a regional approach in dealing with the drug trade. However, Mexican government just don't have much juice left to be much of a help. He has been very careful not to point fingers at Mexico but words in the street is saying otherwise as people do blame Mexico as the source of the problem. The more powerful is the Los Zetas, a Mexican gulf cartel. While there are Guatemalan within the rank, all the higher ups are Mexicans.

S2, if you think 7500 killings a year is bad, the drug related killing in Guatemala reached 10,000 last year in a much smaller population.

Then you've got rural peasant rights issues that's a continuing carryover from the Zapatista movement.

Up north yes, but the main route is by sea and by the Inter-American Highway (CA-1) down south. Zapatista movement is Sunday school compare to the drug trade.

26 Dec 10,, 06:31
Include lack of local representation, throw in tales of the Kaibiles and now the government IS the enemy.

Yes, years of civil war does have that impact on you. Silver Mine is the silver lining for Guatemala right now, as the price and silver jumps, so does mining in Guatemala (144% growth last year measured by production), but as you guessed, jobs are going to the selected few and the local Quiche is not one of them. Still it is worthy of exploiting.

26 Dec 10,, 06:37

The Joint Inter-Agency Task Force - South (JIATF-S) is receiving very low key coverage in the press, given the past history of US involvement, it is understandable.

27 Dec 10,, 07:58

The Joint Inter-Agency Task Force - South (JIATF-S) is receiving very low key coverage in the press, given the past history of US involvement, it is understandable.

Things got a little chilly before they got better.

by S-2
Looks like you know a lot about the region.

A little but unfortunately it's mostly all old stuff. I sometimes hear stories out of Belize but they're all third hand.

27 Dec 10,, 21:14
Things got a little chilly before they got better.

The entire region needs to work together, but without resources from the US, it is not going to any better. Sadly, it seems that there is no political will to take on War-on-Drug by the current leadership.

16 May 11,, 17:21
Massacre leaves 27 dead in northern Guatemala
Witnesses say an attack by 200 gunmen killed at least 27 farmworkers in Guatemala's Peten province, an area used by Mexican-based drug cartels. The victims were decapitated.

Guatemala killings: 27 massacred in northern Guatemala - latimes.com (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-guatemala-massacre-20110516,0,1186590.story)

In this 2008 photo, a Guatemalan soldier patrols a nature preserve in Peten, a region said to be crisscrossed with drug traffickers' illegal landing strips. (Hector Tobar / Los Angeles Times)

By Ken Ellingwood and Alex Renderos, Los Angeles Times

May 15, 2011, 9:16 p.m.
Reporting from Mexico City and San Salvador—
At least 27 people were slain early Sunday in a remote area of northern Guatemala that has become a key base for Mexican drug-trafficking groups, authorities said.

Police said a small army of gunmen attacked workers on a coconut farm in the northern province of Peten, a zone that has become increasingly dangerous as Mexican drug smugglers extend operations in Central America to escape a crackdown at home.

Protests over police shooting resonate all the way to Guatemala STORY: Protests over police shooting resonate all the way to Guatemala
STORY: Mexico military says drug lord's successor arrested
<b>Mexico Under Siege:</b> The drug war at our doorstep STORY: Mexico Under Siege: The drug war at our doorstep

The victims included 25 men and two women, all of whom were decapitated, according to Jaime Leonel Otzin, director of Guatemala's National Civil Police. He said witnesses reported that the attack was carried out by 200 gunmen, who arrived in buses.

Authorities had not determined a motive.

Otzin said police were investigating a possible link to the killing a day earlier of Haroldo Leon. He was the brother of a suspected trafficker, Juan Jose "Juancho" Leon, who was slain by gunmen in 2008 in a hit attributed to the Zetas gang.

The Guatemala office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement condemning the massacre as a further sign of the state of lawlessness in Peten, a region it said is beset by narco-trafficking, oligarchic landownership, illegal cattle-raising and threats to evict rural dwellers from their plots.

Peten, which hugs Mexico's southern border, is home to ancient Maya ruins and some of the region's most scenic countryside.

But isolation and thin police forces have allowed Mexican trafficking gangs such as the Zetas to build clandestine airstrips for smuggling cocaine north to the United States.

Regional officials and analysts say Mexican President Felipe Calderon's 4-year-old crackdown on drug gangs has sent them scrambling for other spots to package and transfer narcotics bound for the United States.

Traffickers have opted for relatively isolated spots in Central America, where weak law enforcement and longstanding corruption provide limited risk of detection or arrest. Peten is especially useful to smugglers because the border with Mexico is only lightly patrolled.

The influx of Mexican traffickers, most notably the Zetas and the cartel run by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman that is based in the western Mexican state of Sinaloa, has stoked worry that criminal groups could overwhelm Central American nations.

Countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador are still rebuilding from long civil wars and already have high homicide rates.

The threat from the drug cartels was a key subject of talks when President Obama visited El Salvador in March to meet with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom declared a state of emergency in the northern province of Alta Verapaz in December, deploying army patrols to seize territory in effect ruled by the Zetas, one of Mexico's most vicious crime groups.

Authorities in Honduras have discovered cocaine-processing labs, and officials in El Salvador found a suspected Zetas training camp and $15 million in drug funds buried in plastic barrels.


Times staff writer Ellingwood reported from Mexico City and special correspondent Renderos from San Salvador.

17 May 11,, 13:34
I begin to believe that the unthinkable is the best choice to eliminate these gangs... drug decriminalization / government oversight and supply of the trade.

What junkie is going to want to inject mexican tar when he can buy pharma grade heroin from a government store? or the pot smoker can pick up some "White Rhino" from a local hydroponics dealer?

These drug gangs are a cancer on the Americas.

10 Sep 11,, 16:44

Desperate Guatemalans Embrace an ‘Iron Fist’
Daniel LeClair for The New York Times
Published: September 9, 2011

COBÁN, Guatemala — They burned villages, killed children and, just a winding road away from here in 1982, the Guatemalan military also massacred hundreds of Mayan peasants, after torturing old men and raping young women.

Otto Pérez Molina, a Guatemalan presidential candidate and former general, at a rally in Chimaltenango last week. More Photos »

But now, all across these highlands once ravaged by a 36-year civil war, the region’s bloodiest anti-Communist conflict, Guatemalans are demanding the unthinkable — a strong military, back in their communities.

That is how desperate this country has become as gangs and Mexican drug cartels run fever-wild, capturing territory and corrupting institutions so that Guatemala will remain a safe haven for cocaine, guns, money laundering and new recruits.

“It’s even scarier now than during the war,” said Josefina Molina, 52, making tamales a few steps from where a neighbor was killed two days earlier. “The danger used to be in the mountains — now it’s everywhere.”

Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday could represent a turning point. The three top contenders have all called for a stronger, crime-fighting military, borrowing heavily from the Mexican model of attacking the drug cartels head-on, even though that strategy has claimed more than 40,000 lives without yielding peace.

The front-runner is considered to be Otto Pérez Molina, a former general whose campaign symbol is an iron fist. Reserved and intellectual, he both commanded troops during the worst atrocities of the war and negotiated the 1996 peace accords that ended it.

“He knows the strategies for fighting,” said Fábio Dagoberto Miza, a campaign leader.

But the question playing on repeat is whether the next government will get tough without violating human rights.

“For many, there is a sense that the military is going to put things in order,” said Raquel Zelaya, executive director of Así Es, a research group. And yet, she and others added, what if that faith is misplaced?

“The notion that the military is the ‘deus ex machina’ that’s going to resolve everything” does not recognize that the military “may also be part of the problem,” said Cynthia Arnson, an expert at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Here in Cobán, a coffee town in the country’s lush, mountainous middle, the concern can be heard, but mainly among older indigenous leaders who still shudder at armed Guatemalans in fatigues. It is harder to find on the streets, where there is a rise in murders, or among those, like Mrs. Molina’s children — Cindy, Ericka and Enrique — who have no personal experience with the civil war.

As frustrated 20-somethings, they now represent the majority of the electorate. More than 60 percent of Guatemala’s roughly 7.3 million registered voters are between 18 and 30 years old.

In their eyes, the war that killed an estimated 200,000 Guatemalan civilians is a vague shadow. The old ideological fight over whether leftist insurgents — angered by an American-backed coup in 1954 — would lead the country to Communism means nothing to them.

The army itself is a different institution now, far smaller, often responsible for passing out government aid and considered less corrupt than the police or the courts.

“Older people think that with soldiers we’ll go back to the past, back to war,” said Cindy Molina, 29. But the military and Mr. Pérez Molina, she said, “have the knowledge we need.”

Some experts believe the former general, who is also championing programs to fight poverty, is benefiting from Guatemala’s failure to fully confront its past. The country’s poorly financed schools do not include lessons on the war. Mr. Pérez Molina’s role has never been fully investigated (he has denied links to massacres) and despite efforts to unearth both memories and victims, most young Guatemalans are unaware of their country’s history.

Edgar Gutiérrez Girón, a former foreign minister, says that when he asks students about the war, “they think I’m talking about Iraq.”

Their experience — their war — is against criminals. And across classes and ages, the consensus is clear: Guatemala is losing. Towns near the Mexican border and on routes from the coasts, where Andean cocaine typically arrives, are now openly controlled by drug cartels.

Planes used to carry drugs are visible in the Petén, a northern border region where cartel lieutenants have bought huge properties they claim to use for cattle ranching, a business perfect for laundering money — which also explains, experts say, the sudden boom in high-rise apartment buildings across Guatemala City.

Drug money has also poisoned politics. Several senior members of the national police, including the chief and deputy chief, were purged in 2009 for their involvement in drug trafficking, while illicit financing is expected to make this year’s campaign the most expensive on record. It is expected to cost $50 million to $70 million for each of the three main presidential candidates, according to Acción Ciudadana, the Guatemalan chapter of Transparency International, which tracks political spending.

Per capita, despite backbreaking poverty, that makes Guatemala’s elections among the priciest in the world. “Private businesses, the ones that usually fund campaigns — they don’t have that kind of money,” said Manfredo Marroquín, Acción Ciudadana’s director.

Drug money, he argued, flows to nearly every party and candidate, so whoever wins will owe a debt to the criminals: “It’s a perverse circle.”

Violence attributed to Mexican cartels, especially the Zetas, also keeps spreading: a decapitated head dumped in front of Congress last year; a massacre of 27 farm workers near the Mexican border in May, in which a severed arm was used to write a message in blood; and then the murder and dismemberment of the case’s prosecutor two months later.

The favored solutions can be as bad as the problem. Hot lines in Guatemala City now allow people to order up punishment from private enforcers, who kill extortionists after they pick up a final payment and then pin messages on the bodies explaining why the murder was justified.

There are obvious long-term solutions, proposed repeatedly by experts: police reform, a stronger justice system with judges appointed for life and a security tax on the rich, similar to what Colombia enacted a few years ago. Already, there has been some progress on the judicial front.

But patience is waning. Mr. Pérez Molina’s main challenger, Manuel Baldizón, a wealthy businessman running as a populist, has vowed to apply the death penalty more often, possibly in public.

The main challenge for whoever wins may be building confidence in a state described by Guatemalans as a caricature, a failure, a shame or nonexistent. In Cobán, many residents said that any attempted solution from the government, including a stronger military, would either never happen, or be blunted by the rich or criminals.

Indeed, just steps away from Josefina Molina’s home, at the funeral for her neighbor, distrust mingled with tears. Freddy Colonal de Osorio, 25, said that after finding his father dead last week, he no longer cared what the government did — as long as it did something.

“They’re always promising, promising, promising,” he said. “They never follow through.”

11 Sep 11,, 21:12
Polls open for Guatemalans to choose new president
Workers carry electoral material in Guatemala city on 10 September 2011 Voters want to see action taken on Guatemala's rising crime rates
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Polls have opened in Guatemala for voters to choose their next president.

Former army general Otto Perez Molina of the right-wing Patriotic Party appears to be the frontrunner in a field of 10 candidates.

Mr Perez Molina - who has promised to be tough on crime - would need more than 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off vote in November.

Whoever wins will face the challenge of rising violence, much of which is attributed to local and Mexican gangs.

Mexican cartels have expanded operations into the Central American nation, which is an important transit point for drugs smuggled from South America to the US.
Controversial divorce

Polls show that Mr Perez Molina's closest rival is businessman Eduardo Baldizon, followed by physicist and mathematician Eduardo Sugar. All are right-leaning.

The only left-wing candidate running for office is Rigoberta Menchu, the indigenous human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
Continue reading the main story
Guatemala election and issues
Otto Perez Molina on 10 September 2011

Winner needs 50% plus one vote
If no winner, a 2nd round will be held on 6 November
Polls show Otto Perez Molina (pictured) is the frontrunner
Key issues: violence, insecurity, one of highest poverty rates in Latin America
More than 40% of under-fives malnourished

Mr Perez Molina has had a commanding lead since Sandra Torres, the former wife of outgoing President Alvaro Colom, was excluded from running, observers say.

Ms Torres filed for divorce in March - a move critics said was to avoid a constitutional ban on close relatives of the president running for the post.

But Guatemalan judges ruled last month that, despite her divorce, Ms Torres' candidacy still violated the constitution and she was therefore ineligible.

Some candidates, including Mr Perez Molina, have accused President Colom of not being tough enough on organised crime - claims the president rejects.

Guatemala, one of the poorest nations in Latin America, is beset by gang violence and increased drug-trafficking operations on its territory.

It suffers the highest rate of child malnutrition in the region - half of all children under five are malnourished.

11 Sep 11,, 21:14
If Colom is to lost, he should blame his wife. That said, I still think he did a great job.