Guatemalan authorities arrested an alleged member of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel who is suspected of working with one of the country's oldest drug smuggling groups, the Lorenzanas, pointing to the continued influence of the Guatemalan clan despite the capture of their leader last year.
Anti-narcotics police detained alleged Sinaloa Cartel operative Walter Alirio Montejo Merida, alias "El Zope," on Sunday in the northwest state of Huehuetenango, reported Prensa Libre.
El Zope, a Guatemalan national, is accused of serving as a key link between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Lorenza clan, trafficking narcotics from South America to the United States via Huehuetenango and Mexico. According to the Associated Press, authorities consider him one of the country's main traffickers.
El Zope could now be extradited to the United States, where he is accused by a District of Columbia court of manufacturing and trafficking drugs.
Police also captured two alleged members of the Sinaloa Cartel's rivals, the Zetas, on Sunday. The men were detained in the city of Salama, some 100 kilometers north of the capital.
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The Sinaloa Cartel have long been thought to work with the Lorenzanas. In 2010, the US Treasury Department froze the assets of patriarch Waldemar Lorenzana and his three sons, accusing them of connections with the Mexican cartel. His son Elio Lorenzana was arrested in November last year, accused of facilitating the handover of Colombian cocaine to the Sinaloas. A Guatemalan court authorized his extradition in February.
If El Zope was serving as a go-between for the Lorenzanas and the Sinaloa Cartel in recent months, it would suggest the former group still has a measure of authority and respect in Guatemala, despite the arrest of Waldemar in April 2011.
In addition to trafficking cocaine through the country, the Sinaloa Cartel have pushed much of their production of synthetic drugs such as crystal meth into Guatemala. The group is now thought to produce more methamphetamine in Guatemala than in Mexico.
The arrests of the suspected Zetas serve as a reminder that Mexico's two largest gangs are vying for control of trafficking corridors through Guatemala. A recent gun battle in Zacapa City reportedly involved members of both gangs, while the Sinaloa Cartel are thought to be behind a "narcomanta," or banner, hung last month in Zacapa that accused the city's mayor of links to the Zetas.
Guatemala will deploy 300 Kaibiles special forces personnel by the end of this month to reinforce security in the northern province of Peten, due to the presence of both cartels there.