Guatemala's drug trafficking organizations are undergoing a profound shift away from traditional, family-oriented clans to a new generation of criminal groups. The arrest of Horst Walther Overdick, a key ally of the Zetas in Guatemala, may hasten this transformation.
According to a press release (.pdf) by the US Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York, Overdick was involved in the drug trade since 1999. He protected airstrips where planes loaded with cocaine could land, and smuggled the product onwards to Mexico in trucks. He worked primarily with the Zetas, and is believed to have been responsible for helping the Mexican cartel establish a foothold in northern Guatemala.
Overdick faces extradition charges to the US on one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and another count of possessing a firearm while involved in a drug trafficking crime. In the past year alone, several other members of Guatemala's old guard of drug traffickers have found themselves facing the same fate. This includes two members of the powerful Lorenzana family, as well as crime lord Juan Alberto Ortiz Lopez, alias "Juan Chamale." Alongside the arrival of the Zetas, this string of arrests represents a direct threat to the old generation of traditional narcos, and raises the question of what further changes lie in store for the Guatemalan underworld.
Overdick's exit from the scene may allow at least one other local criminal organization to move in on his territory. As Prensa Libre reports, the Zetas were not Overdick's only ally. He also partnered with the trafficking organization of Mario Ponce Rodriguez, who was arrested in Honduras in May 2011 and subsequently extradited to the US. Ponce's brother, Jorge Rodriguez, is now believed to have assumed control of the organization. His group is also reportedly allied with the Zetas.
Overdick reportedly sold a portion of his cocaine shipments to the Zetas and another portion to the Ponce network. Like Overdick, the Ponces coordinated the arrival of cocaine shipments from Honduras into Guatemala by air, then moved the product onto Mexico by land. The Ponces primarily used routes moving through the border department of Izabal, which borders Honduras to the east. In Izabal alone, there may be as many as 45 "blind spots" where there is no border security and drug traffickers may easily pass, Prensa Libre reports.
The Ponces reportedly partnered with Overdick in order to act as their key supplier and mover in Alta Verapaz department. Through Overdick, the Ponces may have enlisted the help of the Zetas to eliminate other local rival, Jorge Luis Meléndez Paredes, also based in Izabal department. Intelligence sources told Prensa Libre that the Zetas may have killed Melendez in order to help Mario Ponce cement his control over Izabal.
Overdick may soon meet the same fate as Ponce, who is currently being held in a Miami prison. Ponce is reportedly trying to seek reduced terms in return for providing intelligence on another Guatemala-based drug trafficking organization, headed by the little-known Marllory Dadiana Chacon Rossell. In January, the US Treasury named Chacon a specially designated drug trafficker and placed sanctions against her businesses, one sure sign that Chacon has joined Overdick and Ponce in becoming a top target of the US. Tellingly, the US described Chacon as an important supplier to the Mexican drug cartels.
In some ways, Overdick represented a new era of drug trafficking alliances in Guatemala. In 2008, he partnered with the Zetas in order to drive out one of his main rivals, the contraband-smuggling Leones family, from his stronghold in Alta Verapaz province. The arrival of the Zetas represented a challenge to other families who traditionally controlled the drug trade like the Mendozas and Lorenzanas. While these groups relied on family connections and shoring up support from local communities, the Zetas used violence and intimidation as their primary means of doing business. Instead of building up smuggling networks over a long period of time, the Zetas emphasized a military-like control of territory, and payment of "piso" (tax) for any criminal activity realized in their area of control.
Overdick was the original endorser of this new strategy. Now that he is being held in a high-security prison in Guatemala, this may open the way for an even newer generation of Guatemala traffickers, who may also elect to support the Zetas' tactics. Both the Ponce network and the network of Chacon Rossell may be well poised to assume a strong position during this rearrangement of power.