In comments that highlight the power of Mexican trafficking organizations within Guatemala, President Otto Perez said that the Zetas gang controlled two of the country’s biggest drug routes, and were fighting the Sinaloa Cartel for the third.
In an interview with AFP marking the end of his first year in power, Guatemalan leader Perez said that Mexican cartels continued to expand their presence in his country, and were working to penetrate state institutions and recruit ex-soldiers.
The president said that the Zetas were interested in recruiting former members of elite counter-insurgency group the Kaibiles (of which Perez himself was a member), because the soldiers have “not just preparation, but discipline and military training that could help [the Zetas] with illegal activities."
According to Perez, the Zetas control a trafficking route through Peten province, another route which runs through the center of the country, and are fighting the Sinaloa Cartel for control of a route near the Pacific ocean (see map).
Perez also said that members of the two principal mara gangs in the region, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, collaborated with the Mexican cartels but were not fully integrated into them, as some reports have suggested.
InSight Crime Analysis
As set out by an 2011 InSight Crime investigation, the Zetas have been operating in Guatemala since 2007, seeking the huge profits available from controlling drug trafficking routes through the Central American nation, and fleeing a crackdown by Mexican authorities.
Since then the group has turned Guatemala into one of its primary areas of operation, using its characteristic aggressive expansionist tactics, and employing brutal measures to gain control over territory.
Perez’s claims about the dispute over the Pacific route are backed by a report from Mexico’s El Universal published in September, which said that the Zetas were moving to take control of trafficking routes through San Marcos province, which borders on Mexico and the Pacific ocean, and had traditionally been controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel.
Despite incursions from the Zetas, Guatemala remains an important operational base for the Sinaloans. In recent years the cartel has pushed much of its methamphetamine production into Guatemala, and continues to traffic cocaine through the country in collaboration with local groups.