Amidst little fanfare, Guatemala’s president announced the extension of a state of siege for another month in the central province of Alta Verpaz this week.
The limited hoopla surrounding the announcement was curious considering the considerable consternation the measure provoked when it was first announced on December 19, as a means to combat the rising influence of the organized criminal syndicates in the region.
The government has placed 300 extra army troops in Alta Verapaz for the forseeable future, officials told elPeriodico newspaper, which has had the most complete coverage on the measure.
But Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom discarded the possibility of widening the state of siege, even though Alta Verapaz’s governor proposed a regional security plan to neighboring states.
The effect of the state of siege may be largely symbolic at this point. Authorities have arrested eighteen people, eight of whom are still in custody for various charges related to organized crime, according to elPeriodico, and a slew of weapons (photo), cars and other organized crime paraphernalia.
But locals have told InSight that the majority of the criminals simply absconded, having received notice prior to the arrival of the extra troops and the recycled police.
The news coverage has largely focused on the Zetas, the Mexican criminal gang that used to be enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, as being the target of the measure. But there are plenty of Guatemalans who operate both with and against the Zetas.
With that in mind, InSight Crime has launched its Guatemala section, which includes profiles of four independent groups in the country, and two foreign-based groups, the Zetas and that omnipresent Sinaloa Cartel, who operate surreptitiously.
The Zetas have co-opted many Guatemalans who make up an important part of their organization. Mindful of that, President Colom called this week for the rest of the region to join the battle.
“They’re all connected,” he said. “The Zetas aren’t just Mexicans. They’re Guatemalans, Salvadorans. They’re criminals. We have to chase them everywhere.”