Drug Cartels In Guatemala

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Mexican drug cartels are carving out new territory in northern Guatemala, adding another layer of violence and crime to a country with one of the highest murder rates in the hemisphere.

In December the Guatemalan government declared a two-month state of siege in the rural province of Alta Verapaz, bordering Mexico, in order to crack down on the growing influence of the notorious Mexico-based Los Zetas cartel.

Drug traffickers have us cornered,” Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom told the country’s Congress in January. “Just the weapons seized in Alta Verapaz are more than those of some army brigades.”

The state of siege deployed hundreds of Guatemalan soldiers in the region and allowed them to carry out searches and detain suspects without
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“[Before December] there were weekly if not daily shootouts in the town square between rival drug dealers. There are numerous reports of women being snatched off the street and stuffed into dark SUVs,” he said. “[The cartels] rule by fear, they would make sure that you could see them in the streets of Coban…. they knew they were beyond the reach of the law.”

Guatemala already had a massive problem with organized crime, especially in Guatemala City, but the Mexico drug cartels are a new, well-resourced threat looking to cash in on the country’s strategic placement on the drug trade trail through Latin America. The country contributes to more than 60 percent of the cocaine trafficked to the United States from the region, according to the U.S. State Department.

With Mexico beefing up efforts against the cartels within its borders, and the U.S. helping clamp down on illegal trafficking by air and water, the land routes through Guatemala are even more
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“Drug shipments are coming up from Colombia or Panama, landing in Honduras then coming over land.”

Add those factors to the weak institutions and justice system in the country and Guatemala is “the perfect place to commit a crime,” said Adriana Beltrán, head of the citizen security program at the Washington Office of Latin America, a nonprofit that promotes human rights in the region.

“The likelihood of you being arrested and facing trial for any act is low,” she said. “You have a private sector that often refuses to pay taxes, problems of corruption, oversight and accountability.”

Even Guatemala’s newly-appointed attorney general, Claudia Paz, agrees.

“Guatemala’s state is a very weak state. It doesn’t have the resources to face problems as grave as that of narco-trafficking,” she said. “For traffickers to move down here was very easy because there are some areas of this country where practically there is no presence of the

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