Banners threatening attacks on the civilian population, signed in the name of the Zetas drug gang, have appeared in Peten province, north Guatemala.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, two large pieces of cloth were hung in prominent places in the provincial capital Flores, with variations on the following message, reports Prensa Libre:
To all the civil and military authorities and the general population ... stop persecuting the clan or we will start to kill, we are going to launch grenades in the discos and shopping malls of Peten ... this is Z territory, we don't want a war against the government, this is the warning. Sincerely, Z-200"
"Z-200" is the name used by a Zetas cell operating in Guatemala, but is also thought to be the alias of a Zetas commander based there.
President Otto Perez said the authorities were investigating, and that they believed the messages were a product of rivalry between drug trafficking groups.
The Zetas often hang public messages, known as "narcomantas," on the streets of Mexico to communicate their plans or threaten rivals, but the practice is far less common in Guatemala. Earlier this month similar banners were hung in Guatemala City, also signed in the name of Z-200 and calling for drug legalization. However, as InSight Crime noted, these seemed more likely to have come from opponents of the president than from the Zetas themselves.
The messages in Peten are more likely to be genuine -- the large, sparsely-populated province borders on the Zetas' home country of Mexico. The banners suggest that the Zetas are increasingly ready to stake their claim to the province, which has been a stronghold for the group since they began their move into Guatemala in earnest in 2008.
Peten Governor Henry Amezquita said that the banners could be from the Zetas, but were just as likely to be the work of politicians trying to damage the government, reports elPeriodico. The newspaper says that the government has not ruled out imposing another state of emergency in Peten, following the declaration of a "state of siege" there in May last year, when the Zetas massacred 27 farmhands on a ranch.
The tone of the banners suggests that the Zetas have a grievance against the authorities. This could mean that, following Perez's accession to the presidency in January, the group no longer have interlocutors in the government. Perez has promised to take a tough line on crime. On the day of his inauguration he announced plans to crack down on the Zetas, with a better-equipped and greater military presence.
Since then, the security forces have captured Alvaro Gomez Sanchez, alias "El Sapo Gomez," a suspected trafficker who is thought to work closely with the Zetas. On Monday, the security forces captured alleged Zetas commander Gustavo Adolfo Colindres Arreaga, alias "Comandante Rochoy," in Peten, which may have sparked the latest communiques.
The threats of reprisals against the civilian population are credible -- the Zetas are known for launching indiscriminate violent attacks, such as the arson of a Monterrey casino that killed 52 people last year, or the massacre of the Peten farm laborers.