Written by Geoffrey Ramsey
While Guatemala is attempting to crack down on the Zetas‘ growing presence inside the country, the Mexican gang has proven itself to be a determined foe and is even expanding its operations, clashing with rival groups and driving up violence.
On May 25 Guatemalan authorities began a trial against 37 alleged Zetas, all of whom are accused of committing violent crimes in the country, including the May 2011 murder and dismemberment of prosecutor Allan Stowlinsky Vidaurre. The murder was likely in reaction to the increased government pressure placed on the Mexican cartel, following their massacre last year of 27 laborers on a ranch in Peten department.
But aside from this trial, the Guatemalan government appears to have made little progress against the ongoing Zetas incursion into the Central American country. The Peten massacre prompted then President Alvaro Colom to declare a state of emergency in the department, imposing a curfew and granting broad search and seizure powers to security forces. This saw an initially promising wave of arrests, and 80 Zetas were held in connection to the massacre. However, this measure failed to curb the group’s power, and many of these detentions did not result in trials. Even the arrest last year of Hugo Alvaro Gomez Vasquez, alias “Comandante Bruja,” a supposed leader of the Zetas faction in Guatemala, did not appear to significantly debilitate the criminal group.
Indeed, not only has the Mexican organization resisted the government’s attempts to counter its influence, but it seems to have thrived. Since cementing their hold on key trafficking routes in the northern departments of Peten, Alta Verapaz and Zacapa in 2008, the Zetas have expanded their operations in the country. On May 31 the Interior Ministry announced that the cartel now operates in more than one third of country, or eight of its 22 departments. Three of these (Zacapa, Chiquimula and Guatemala) are among the five most violent departments in the entire country.