HomeNewsAnalysisTop Guatemalan Drug Trafficker Arrested
ANALYSIS

Top Guatemalan Drug Trafficker Arrested

GUATEMALA / 31 MAR 2011 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

A trafficker believed to be a key contact for the Sinaloa Cartel was arrested in Guatemala on Wednesday. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considered Guatemalan Juan Alberto Ortiz Lopez, alias 'Juan Chamale,' to be one of the country's top traffickers. But it is doubtful that his arrest will disrupt the Sinaloa Cartel's operations in the north of the country, where Mexican factions have worked alongside local smugglers for years.

Ortiz was arrested in Guatemala's second largest city, Quetzaltenango, about 40 miles from the Mexico border. This is in the department adjacent to his usual stronghold, San Marcos, a mountainous region where much of the country's poppy is grown, and where Ortiz earned himself the nickname of Guatemala's "Heroin King." The Sinaloa Cartel is believed to have cells active in the area, working with Ortiz to traffic narcotics that arrive via Pacific routes.

There have been indications that the pressure on Ortiz was growing, ever since authorities arrested one of his suspected partners, Mauro Salomon Ramirez Barrios, in October 2010. Ortiz used to travel with a team of up to 30 bodyguards, reports elPeriodico, but recently has been reported to move with only three or four. Two of his bodyguards were also arrested Wednesday, according to Prensa Libre.

Ortiz was a well-known patrician in San Marcos, where he owned a cable company and several estates, and was involved in an evangelical church, reports elPeriodico. He relied on a powerful local support network, even inspiring his own narco-ballad sung by local folk singer and evangelical Christian Oscar Ovidio. The song, available in a video below, concerns an alleged failed assassination attempt against Ortiz. The lyrics hint at the extent of the personal mythology, and grassroots popular support, that Ortiz was able to build in San Marcos: "Ortiz never has and never will walk alone / that day as always he was accompanied by three bodyguards, who've never abandoned him / God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit."

The question now is how big a power void Ortiz will leave behind in northern Guatemala, an area long exploited by Mexican cartels such as the Zetas (who are based in the Alta Verapaz department). It is possible that Ortiz's ability to operate effectively as a businessman was limited by his high profile. As Prensa Libre details, Ortiz was constantly on the move between at least five safe houses. And despite the apparent popular support that allowed Ortiz to operate with impunity in San Marcos -- notably, locals protested for the release of his alleged associate Mauro Salomon Ramirez after he was arrested in October -- it was apparently multiple female informants who gave police the intelligence that led to Ortiz's arrest, says Prensa Libre. This suggests that his inner circle had begun to crack under pressure from the authorities.

It is also worth noting that the operation that resulted in Ortiz's arrest was reportedly carried out with substantial support from U.S. agencies, including the DEA. While Ortiz is facing an extradition order in the U.S., he is not technically wanted on any charges in Guatemala. This is a reminder of the institutional weaknesses in the country, where drug smugglers like Ortiz buy off local law enforcement and are sometimes viewed as heroes by the poppy-growers and fishermen hired to smuggle drugs through to Mexico.

The government of Guatemala launched a raid in Alta Verapaz last year, intended to root out the Zetas in the department, but produced no results comparable to the arrest of Ortiz. That the successful raid against Ortiz was accomplished, in part, due to U.S. assistance, is another sign of the key role that the U.S. plays in supporting Guatemala's struggle against drug trafficking. And while the capture of this "big fish," as Guatemala's interior minister dubbed Ortiz, means that the Sinaloa Cartel have possibly lost one of their key business contacts, this will likely be no more than a short-term disruption for the cartel's Guatemalan operations.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

GUATEMALA / 4 APR 2012

Guatemala's drug trafficking organizations are undergoing a profound shift away from traditional, family-oriented clans to a new generation of criminal groups.

GUATEMALA / 23 NOV 2012

Authorities say that seven people killed at a Guatemalan clinic were bodyguards for a local Zetas boss, suggesting…

CIACS / 3 SEP 2015

Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina's late-night resignation could upend deeply entrenched military criminal networks or -- as has been Guatemalan…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…