Fragmentation of Guatemala’s Underworld Fuelling Violence: Prosecutors

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The deaths and arrests of mafia kingpins have caused Guatemala’s drug trafficking groups to splinter, leading to violent power struggles, according to Guatemalan anti-narcotics prosecutors.

Prosecutors told Prensa Libre that emerging groups often only survive for a short time because they lack the logistics and finances to compete with more established groups. Other times, new leaders emerge after old capos cede their positions voluntarily in an attempt to avoid capture or death.

These power struggles have led to violence as ambitious lieutenants fight to displace their former bosses and groups battle rival organizations for control of trafficking routes. Prosecutors did not reveal the number of new cells that have emerged due to this fracturing.

Antinarcotics investigators also identified how these groups have divided up territory in Guatemala (see Prensa Libre’s map below).

InSight Crime Analysis

The prosecutors’ warning about the splintering of Guatemala’s criminal underworld lends credence to the theory that this trend could at least partially explain the recent increase in the country’s murder rate. After a steady decline in Guatemala’s homicide rate from 2009 to 2012, murders have been rising in 2013.

However, there is reason to question whether Prensa Libre’s map — which is based on information provided by the prosecutor’s office — overstates the degree of control which criminal groups wield over their respective territory.

For example, the map identifies the area along Guatemala’s Pacific Coast as territory under the influence of Juan Ortiz Chamale‘s organization. Chamale, once Guatemala’s “top trafficker” and a key Sinaloa Cartel contact, was arrested in Guatemala in 2011 and now awaits extradition to the United States. It’s worth questioning how much the Pacific region can still truly be considered under Chamale’s command, especially given recents reports that the Zetas are fighting with the Sinaloa Cartel over control of drug trafficking routes along the Pacific coast. The level of Zetas’ control over Guatemalan territory also seems overstated.

Similarly, while the map reports that “members of the Overdick cartel” continue to control a drug trafficking corridor in the departments of Alto and Bajo Verapaz, it is unclear whether the remnants of Walther Overdick‘s criminal organization have retained the same degree of influence now that Overdick has been arrested and extradited to the United States.

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