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Guatemala declares 'state of siege' to combat Mexican drug cartel, limiting rights

Police guatemala suspects zetas coban

The brutal Mexican drug-trafficking organization known as the Zetas has made inroads in Guatemala, controlling territory near the Central American country's border with southern Mexico and prompting the Guatemalan government on Sunday to declare a "state of siege" aimed at curbing the gang's growing power.

The state of siege declaration for the northern Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz in turn prompted worry among human rights activists and the Guatemalan press. The declaration allows the government to detain suspects or conduct searches without warrants, and limits public gatherings and the news media.

President Alvaro Colom's government said the state of siege -- which is just below a declaration of war -- would be in place for at least a month and could be extended to the four departments, or provinces, along the Mexican border.

Cartels from Mexico are believed to be taking over established crime rings in Guatemala and recruiting among locals, including the country's poverty-stricken indigenous groups. The Zetas -- one of Mexico's fiercest cartels -- are reportedly attempting to wrestle control of the lucrative trafficking corridor through northern Guatemala from local groups, seizing rural farms to use as depots for drugs and weapons. Meanwhile, in western Guatemala, Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel is also setting up bases, reports have said.

Here's an in-depth report from 2009 by L.A. Times correspondent Ken Ellingwood detailing the rise of the Zetas in Guatemala.

Reliable figures on how many people have died in Guatemala in violence tied to Mexican cartels are hard to come by, but locals in hardest-hit Alta Verapaz told the Associated Press they've been asking for government reinforcements against "the people from outside" for at least two years.

One activist described the violence as "things that no one had seen since the 1980s," referring to Guatemala's long and bloody civil war.

The homicide rate in Guatemala is among the highest in the world, along with neighboring El Salvador and Honduras, countries with entrenched transnational gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha. In Guatemala, that rate was 52 intentional killings out of every 100,000 people in 2006, the last year reported in data collected by the United Nations. By contrast, in 2008, Mexico's rate was 11 homicides out of every 100,000 people.

Since Sunday, Guatemala has detained 10 suspected Zetas members and dismissed 300 police officers in Alta Verapaz, which sits across from a corner of Mexico's Chiapas state. The relatively high number of dismissed police officers suggests the Zetas have infiltrated and recruited among security forces.

Authorities have also seized a small plane in the city of Coban and about 500,000 Guatemalan quetzales, or $63,000. See a video report on the developments in Spanish here.

Congress is scheduled to modify and ratify Colom's declaration in a special session called for Wednesday, La Prensa reported (link in Spanish). In an editorial, the newspaper argued against the limits on press freedom allowed under the state of siege in Alta Verapaz.

"It is, at its core, a credibility problem that manifests, for example, in the possibility of not being able to publish reports on abusive actions against the human rights of those detained, particularly against people whose innocence is not in doubt," La Prensa said.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Guatemalan police detain four suspected Zetas members in Coban, Guatemala. Credit: Agence France-Presse

Update: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of the city of Coban.

Comments () | Archives (11)

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As a Mexican myself, I think it is abhorrent that the violence over here is spilling across our borders to a foreign country whose citizens have played little role in abetting the consumption of drugs or the sale of assault weapons. It is very sad that a country that has already suffered enough over the decades should be forced to impose severe restrictions on its own citizens, all because of the actions of foreign drug cartels. I hope for everyone's sake that these cartels are defeated. don't know which one of us is more ignorant?
You did not grasp my sarcasm!!
@tomas......You are a fool indeed. You want to let all this criminals run a mock. Pete's Sake is right. The author of the article is more concerned with the criminal's rights.

Pete Sake - obviously you are not aware of what has happened in Guatemala over the past 30-40 years. If you were, and at all open minded, you would understand the grave concern about letting the guatemalan police and military to run roughshod over the entire population of its Departments that border Mexico. The police and military have already been thoroughly infiltrated by organized crime!!!!

Do you know what happened during the cycle of thge last national election, read and educate yourself.

Do you know what happened through the 1980's, read and educate yourself.


Human Rights? The author is concerned for the drug cartel's human rights? Have we all gone completely insane? Look to history, read a few books about conquering tribes and their human rights record, then tell me how Guatemala should treat these animals who are destroying both south and north america. Human rights? What planet are you from Mr. Hernandez? Human rights are reserved for people who believe in human rights, otherwise they are wasted and eventually destroyed by those they represent. There is a time and place for human rights - sometimes we simply have to restore order and balance for fear that elevated society, lofty legalese and yes, human rights, will disappear for the rest of us. Grow up and start helping Mexico and Guatemala deal with this scurge by writing compelling arguments in support of these governments, the people, their freedoms and rights, and don't be so concerned with those who would slice your neck to spite your face.

Mexico blames United States for all the violence on a country that makes drug users.

So I guess Mexico will blame Guatemala for all the violence on a country that makes eager criminals.

When will Mexico take responsibility for its culture of violence?

Good for Guatemala. Mexico should do the same. This is a problem of who's human rights are we going to worry about most... the drug cartels or the victims of the drug cartels. Perhaps, Mexico and Guatemala should declare war on US consumers of these drugs. For every person that buys pot, cocaine, or other import drugs in the US, many people are hurt, intimidated or killed across our border. Shame on anyone who participates in the genocide of our neighbors across the border by being a consumer of the fruit of their economic need. Let's send Lindsy Lohan (and other celebrities who glorify the drug life on TMZ) to enlist in the Guatemalan army instead of rehab. I'll bet that would sober them up in no time.

This will go on as long as the alcohol free pass war on drug users does.

Get ready for the next wave of refugees seeking asylum from there...claiming some type of persecution.

geo88a, and who are these people that you say "missing the good 'old days' of the most vicious dictators"? Is it ex-Death Squad members who now live here in the U.S.?

Those same Death Squad guys that would impale babies with their bayonets and rape 10 year-olds? The same guys who would kill you for $50 if a jealous co-worker of yours decided he wanted to hire one of these guys "off-duty" and end your life so he could get a promotion instead of you? They used to like doing that sort of thing during the night, and take you out in front of your family and shoot you in front of them.

If you think Death Squads only went after the Guerillas, you're more ignorant than you could ever, ever imagine. Hopefully Karma doesn't decide to open your eyes whoever/wherever you may be.

I am glad that Mr. Colom had the intestinal fortitude to declare Marshall Law in Alta Verapaz. Crime has creep up exponentially. I've even heard talk about some people missing the good "old days" of the most vicious dictators. When the only thing people had to worried about were the "death squads".


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