The Zetas have been blamed for a wave of extortions committed against Guatemalans from Mexico, which, if true, could illustrate the drug gang's deepening interest in the Central American country.
Authorities in Guatemala are concerned about a recent series of extortion schemes involving families with relatives visiting or working in Mexico. Guatemala’s Prensa Libre reports that victims claim the culprits are members of the Zetas, although the paper does not provide any corroborating evidence for this claim.
The victims, residents of the southeastern Jalapa province, claim to have received threatening phone calls from cellphone numbers in Mexico, in which they were warned that their relatives in that country would be killed if they did not provide their bank account details in order to pay ransom. The perpetrators provided specific information about the relatives in Mexico, including their physical description and details of their jobs.
Officials from the police's National Anti-Gang Development Unit (PANDA) report having received 12 complaints in Jalapa during first three weeks of December, but the total number of victims is unknown.
InSight Crime Analysis
As InSight Crime has reported, such long distance extortions are on the rise in Mexico. This is an attractive source of income to criminal groups because it is low risk, and can be pulled off using only a cellphone number and a few basic details about the victim. Often, the assailants are not actually affiliated with a criminal group, and are armed only with information garnered in a simple Google or Facebook search, like the names of a victim’s children or the type of vehicle they drive.
However, its possible that the wave of extortions in Guatemala was indeed carried out by members of the Zetas. The Mexican drug gang controls a vast portion of the country’s northern Peten region, and it is thought to have penetrated the highest ranks of the Guatemalan military.
Traditionally, Guatemala served mostly as a staging point for the Zetas' drug trafficking network. But if the group is stepping up extortion in Guatemala, it could be a sign that that their presence there has become so strong that they are now using it as a source of other types of criminal income.