Cocaine Seizure, Extortion Ring Bust Points to Guatemala Role in Regional Crime

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A drug seizure in Costa Rica and the dismantling of an extortion network which targeted El Salvadorans, both allegedly run by Guatemalan nationals, are signs of the growing role played by Guatemalans in criminal activities outside of their native country.

According to Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre, authorities found 1,130 pounds of cocaine and heroin in a house in Costa Rica’s capital, rented by two Guatemalan nationals. The drugs were allegedly en route to Guatemala.

The seizure is one sign of the increasingly active role played by Guatemalans in criminal activities throughout Central America. This goes for other activities besides the transport of drugs. According to El Salvadoran newspaper El Mundo, on July 22 police announced they had arrested 14 people, part of a criminal network based in Guatemala, dedicated to extorting victims in El Salvador.

A network of 21 Guatemalans would extort victims through phone calls, demanding payments of up to $3,000, the report says. The scheme may have earned the group $1.5 million from El Salvadoran sources. While Guatemalans were in charge of making the phone calls and handling the payments through bank accounts, the head of the group is allegedly an El Salvadoran member of the MS-13, according to El Mundo.

In early May, a Guatemalan drug lord was arrested in Honduras, another indication of the reach of Guatemalan criminal groups across Central America.

But Guatemala has also suffered the incursion of other criminal organizations within its own borders. Most notably, Mexican group the Zetas are known to control a vast portion of the northern Peten department. In mid-May, the Zetas were responsible for the massacre of 27 people in Peten, in what was apparently a revenge attack against a local trafficker.

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