The arrest of a mayor in Guatemala's northern department of San Marcos has unveiled a criminal structure known as "Los Pochos" that investigators see as heirs to "Los Chamalé," formerly one of Guatemala's main drug gangs and transporters for the Sinaloa Cartel.
Erick Salvador Súñiga Rodríguez, better known as “El Pocho” and the mayor of the municipality of Ayutla in the department of San Marcos, surrendered to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in mid-December and agreed to reveal details of his role in trafficking cocaine from Guatemala to the United States, Prensa Libre reported.
Súñiga had been identified by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as the leader of Los Pochos, through which he "controls narcotics trafficking activities at the Guatemalan-Mexico border. He uses corrupt local law enforcement officials to assist him with illicit activities" and "supplies cocaine to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, according to the Treasury Department.
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According to Prensa Libre, Súñiga negotiated his surrender to the DEA over eight months starting in April 2019. Sources consulted by that newspaper reported that the mayor's lawyers attempted to delay his extradition to the United States and tried to extend his political immunity as mayor.
Four other Guatemalan nationals, including Súñiga's brother and half-brother, were arrested with him as part of "Los Pochos."
InSight Crime Analysis
The investigation against Súñiga has revealed that his drug trafficking routes and contacts were likely the same once controlled by the renowned Los Chamalé clan.
According to Prensa Libre, Súñiga first came to the DEA's attention over two years ago through a recorded phone call between the former mayor and drug trafficker Juan Alberto Ortiz López, aka “Juan Chamalé,” who was extradited to the United States in 2014.
Documents from the District Court of East Texas published by the newspaper El Periódico state that El Pocho had a longstanding relationship with Ortiz López and was part of his inner circle.
Until Ortiz López was arrested in 2011, Los Chamalé had been a major drug trafficking gang in the department of San Marcos. It had operated since the 1990s and was considered as one of the Sinaloa Cartel's main drug transporters in Guatemala, according to a report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published in 2012.
They reportedly controlled not only the passage of drugs through San Marcos but also controlled routes between Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas along the Pacific coast.
These areas in San Marcos and along the Pacific Coast are the same that Los Pochos now reportedly control, especially the route from Guatemala's Ayutla, where Súñiga was mayor, to Ciudad Tecún Uman on the border with Mexico.
The investigation and detention of Súñiga shows how the gap left behind by the dismantling of Los Chamalé allowed a small local group, Los Pochos, to rise and seize control of drug trafficking in a crucial area of Guatemala.
Súñiga also was reported to be linked to former presidential candidate Sandra Torres Casanova, imprisoned in Guatemala for alleged illicit campaign financing ahead of the 2015 presidential elections. According to an InSight Crime investigation, Torres' sister, Gloria, had earlier forged a relationship with Chamalé to receive illicit funds for Torres' campaign.