Guatemala Military Sanctions Officers over InSight ‘Zetas’ Video

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Guatemala’s Ministry of Defense has sanctioned two top level officials who appeared in a video with suspected drug traffickers, following the publication of the video by InSight Crime as part of its Zetas in Guatemala Special.

Colonel Edgar Ernesto Muralles Solorzano and Lt. Colonel Edwin Herminio Rivas Morales both received 40 demerits for their unauthorized attendance at a horse race on September 15, 2010. Also present were suspected drug traffickers from the Zetas gang, and locals from the Horst Walther Overdick criminal group, gathered to race horses near Coban airport, in central Guatemala.

“They did not have permission to be at the event,” Colonel Rony Urizar, the Defense Ministry spokesman, told InSight Crime in a telephone interview.

Urizar said the Defense Ministry passed the information obtained from the video to the Attorney General’s Office for further possible criminal investigation.

The video, which also later appeared as part of a Univison report on the same subject, shows Muralles and Rivas watching the horse races that sources said suspected drug traffickers regularly held in that area.

Urizar emphasized that the men’s presence at the event is not proof they were committing a crime, and said the ministry would take no further action in the case.

The Zetas have allied with local traffickers as part of an effort to control this important choke point in the cocaine trade and expand other business interests, such as human smuggling and human trafficking.guatemala_zetas_organizational_chart

To further these ends, the group perpetrated a series of spectacular crimes, including the massacre and dismembering of 27 farm hands on a ranch in the Peten state, and the murder of a local prosecutor who was investigating a cocaine seizure in the Alta Verapaz state.

Their audacious and bloody style, however, appears to have backfired, at least in the short term. Following the massacre, over 40 suspected Zetas’ operatives have been captured, many of them high level operatives, and possibly one accountant.

Since last December, the government also declared states of siege in Peten and Alta Verapaz where the Zetas operate. During these the government confiscated dozens of vehicles and weapons, and temporarily pushed the gang from their areas of influence.

Still, the Zetas and Overdick group have a lot of staying power, in part due to their contacts in the military. During its four-month investigation, InSight Crime determined that these criminal allies recruit regularly from the military’s highest ranks, obtaining weaponry and training from active army officials.

Col. Muralles and Lt. Col. Rivas may have been part of this network, although an Attorney General’s Office investigation is ongoing. At the time when the video was shot, Muralles was stationed at the the military school Adolfo V. Hall del Norte, in San Pedro Carcha, just outside of the city of Coban, the Zetas’ alleged headquarters.

Spokesman Urizar said the penalty could lead to the officials’ dismissal from the army, when added to previous demerits, but this appears unlikely. The punishment for cavorting with the Zetas, however, appears more like a slap on the wrist.

The Guatemalan military has a long history of working with organized crime, to the point where the nexuses between the military and criminals have been given a name: Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad – CIACS). The CIACS have their own criminal networks, or do jobs for other criminal networks.

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