Guatemalan Special Forces unit the Kaibiles

Newly declassified US security reports highlight how the Zetas recruited men from Guatemalan Special Forces unit the Kaibiles for use in operations in both Mexico and Guatemala, underlining concerns about the deployment of the unit on anti-narcotics operations.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cables and reports were part of a raft of documents released to the National Security Archive that track the rise of the Zetas since before their 2010 break away from the Gulf Cartel.

In several of the documents from 2009 and 2010, the DEA highlight how the Zetas recruited from the Kaibiles, a controversial Special Forces unit that current Guatemalan President Otto Perez, himself a former Kaibiles member, has deployed in anti-narcotics operations.

In one 2009 cable, the DEA discusses how Kaibiles recruits are used to source firearms and grenades from the Guatemalan military. Another cable, from 2010, describes how members of the Kaibiles were arrested in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas following a shootout between the Zetas and the security forces.

InSight Crime Analysis

The practice of recruiting the Kaibiles confirmed in the security documents is open knowledge, with the Zetas even going so far as to target them with recruitment drives through local pirate radio stations.

Recruiting from the ranks of Special Forces not only helps the Zetas enlist men with military experience and connections in the security forces, it also continues the founding tradition of the Zetas, which were originally a breakaway Mexican Special Forces unit.

As shown in the documents, the Zetas not only used the Kaibiles in their rapid expansion throughout Guatemala, they were also active in Mexico, suggesting the Zetas deploy them as shock troops in disputed territories.

SEE ALSO: The Zetas in Guatemala 

While unsurprising that the Zetas recruit in this way, confirmation of the fact the authorities have long been aware of this raises concerns about the use of the Kaibiles to tackle drug trafficking. Perez has significantly increased the role of the Kaibiles in anti-narcotics operations, and last year deployed them to the northern Mexican border region -- a zone where the Zetas, along with the Sinaloa Cartel, are active -- a policy that now seems particularly risky.