Horst Walther Overdick, the man who helped the feared Mexican Zetas drug gang cement their power in northern Guatemala, has been arrested, throwing the country’s already volatile underworld into flux.
The operation was tightly coordinated. US officials worked with the National Police, Attorney General’s Office, and Interior Ministry to execute the arrest. Shortly thereafter, the Southern District of New York unsealed an indictment against Overdick.
The US will now prepare to request Overdick’s extradition. He currently faces no criminal charges in Guatemala and will likely employ legal measures to delay extradition to the United States.
The son of a former mayor, born and raised in the northern province of Alta Verapaz, Overdick started out as a buyer and seller of cardamom. He used his logistical network to move into contraband, then used his knowledge of contraband networks to begin moving drug shipments. He also built up his contacts among military and political officials.
When the Zetas arrived in Guatemala in 2007, Overdick saw a good opportunity to expand his business. He partnered with the Mexican group to drive out a rival contraband family, the Leones, from their territory. With the Leones out of the picture, Overdick gained access to the highly strategic Zacapa corridor, a border state long used for moving drug shipments.
As InSight Crime reported in a 2011 report, Overdick continued to work closely with the Zetas, providing them with logistical support, weapons and drugs that he obtained through his own networks. In essence, Overdick was the pointman for the Zetas in Alta Verapaz, the province which serves as the Mexican group’s base of operations in Guatemala.
Overdick’s collaboration was critical for the Zetas to establish themselves in the country. Overdick’s contacts and infrastructure gave them protection from the local authorities, while the Zetas gave Overdick the firepower to confront his rivals. Overdick even sent some members of his security team to work for the Zetas.
Overdick was a public figure in Guatemala who often did not bother to lie low, attending public events with high-level public officials. He played on a local soccer team, facing off against the governor of Alta Verapaz just prior to the government’s declaration of a “state of siege” in the province in late 2010.
But after the Zetas massacred 27 people on a farm in May 2011, the Guatemalan government launched an unprecedented effort against the Overdick-Zetas organization. This resulted in dozens of arrests, including the capture of one of Overdick’s top lieutenants in February and Overdick’s 20-year-old son last year. Overdick himself reportedly narrowly avoided arrest in July 2011.
Overdick is one of several high-profile Guatemalan drug traffickers to be captured in the last year. Juan Alberto Ortiz Lopez, alias “Juan Chamale,” whom the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) once identified as Guatemala’s number one drug trafficker, was arrested in March 2011. Two members of another notorious contraband family, the Lorenzanas, including family patriarch Waldemar, were also arrested in 2011.
Overdick’s knowledge of the Zetas’ operations in Guatemala may prove costly for the Mexican group. There have been suggestions that after the defeat of the Leones, Overdick did not enjoy the equal partnership with the Zetas that he originally envisioned. Plaza Publica went so far to suggest that “The Zetas got out of Overdick’s control.” As outsiders, the Zetas needed Overdick’s help to make the first incursions into Guatemala, but afterwards they were able to set up their own operational structure and drug smuggling networks.
The question now is whether the Zetas are still significantly dependent on Overdick’s help, and whether their cell in Guatemala can survive without him. They will almost certainly lose some of Overdick’s business and political contacts, but they have also managed to build up their own. Overdick’s capture may shake up the Zetas’ operations, but it likely will not be a fatal blow.