Guatemalan authorities captured the alleged leader of a Zetas cell in the region along the border with Mexico, where the group's incursion has recently forced the displacement of local residents.
On September 26, Guatemalan authorities captured Daniel Juan Nicolas, alias "El Mono," in the municipality of Santa Cruz Barillas in the department of Huehuetenango, near the border with Mexico, reported La Prensa Libre.
Prior to his arrest, Juan Nicolas allegedly directed the Zetas' operations in the town of Sinlaj for ten months. The town reportedly served as a place to store shipments of drugs and arms and was home to a training camp for the cartel.
As part of the same operation that led to Juan Nicolas' capture, authorities evacuated 44 villagers from Santa Cruz Barillas after the Zetas threatened them with death if they refused to cooperate with the group, reported El Pais. The displaced residents suspect that the Zetas may have buried multiple victims from nearby towns in mass graves.
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Since their arrival in 2007, the Zetas have worked to consolidate their power in northern Guatemala, turning the region into one of their primary bases of operation. The group has taken advantage of the weakness of the country's public security institutions, particularly apparent in the sparsely populated regions that border Mexico.
Earlier this week, Guatemala announced that it had increased security measures, especially along its northern border, in preparation for possible violence resulting from the recent split within the Zetas. In Mexico, the Zetas top leadership has lost power over local cells, and some plaza bosses, such as the recently arrested Ivan Velazquez Caballero, alias “El Taliban,” have begun defying orders from the upper leadership. While the rift has caused chaos in northeastern Mexico, it remains to be seen what effect the split will have on the Zetas' operations in Guatemala.