Guatemala Declares State of Siege in Alta Verapaz

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Guatemala’s government declared a state of siege in the embattled state of Alta Verapaz on Sunday, an area just north of capital city Guatemala that has been overrun with large criminal gangs and violence.

The declaration will mean more army and police presence in a state that has but 343 police, only 60 percent of which are on duty at any one time. The measure also gives authorities the power to detain and hold suspects without immediately charging them, and includes curfews and random searches of homes and vehicles. 

The declaration comes as the government seeks to get a handle on increasingly powerful drug trafficking gangs operating in the country. The Mexican syndicate, the Zetas, and the Sinaloa Cartel, operate in Guatemala. The Zetas ambushed and killed the head of a powerful local syndicate in 2008. The Sinaloa Cartel associates control swaths of territory on the Guatemalan-Mexican border.

However, the extent of the Mexicans’ presence is disputed. Foreign news agencies taken for given that the Guatemalan government’s decision is based on the control of the Zetas in Alta Verapaz. But local newspapers do not mention a criminal gang’s name and emphasize the presence of local criminal structures in their coverage. And Mexican intelligence sources tell InSight that the Zetas’ presence is overblown in the region.

Caravans of armed men roam freely in Coban, a recent research trip to Coban by InSight Crime revealed. Local sources told InSight that these include both Mexican and local criminal syndicates who work together to protect the drugs moving through the region from other criminal gangs.

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