Gap Left by Fallen Guatemala Drug Lords Filled by Competing Clans

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Authorities in Guatemala say the underworld has fragmented in the wake of the arrests and extraditions of the country’s top drug traffickers, but the flow of cocaine has been unaffected.

So far this year, Guatemala has extradited two of the country’s most powerful drug traffickers, Juan Ortiz Lopez, alias “Juan Chamale,” and Waldemar Lorenzana, alias the “Patriarch.” The pair will join Mario Ponce Rodriguez, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the United States in 2012.

The vacuum left by senior traffickers is being filled by their family members, friends and their security chiefs, according to anonymous antinarcotics investigators that spoke to Prensa Libre.

Ortiz’s organization has fractured into two groups, both trafficking drugs on the Pacific Coast, the officials said. One is headed by family members of Ortiz, while the other was under the control of a former associate, Felix Pimentel Lopez, until his arrest late last year, and is now in the hands of one of Pimentel’s lieutenants.

The trafficking routes controlled by Lorenzana, which run through the east and the north of the country, also remain in the hands of his family and allies, among them Lorenzana’s son Haroldo, according to the investigators.

Also operating in eastern Guatemala, and in parts of Peten in the north, is what remains of Ponce’s network. Investigators are on the trail of Ponce’s brother Jorge.

The family members that have taken over the networks are being challenged by the fallen drug lords’ former security chiefs, who have looked to take advantage of the weakening of the organizations, say officials. These hitmen and bodyguards have used their knowledge of the groups’ routes and structures to form cells of “tumbadores” — drug thieves — not only to sell on the shipments, but also as part of a strategy to seize control of trafficking corridors.

Despite this turbulence, officials noted they had not seen any appreciable decrease in the quantity of drugs passing through the country.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Guatemalan underworld has been in a chaotic state of flux in recent years, as InSight Crime reported last year.

As noted by the Guatemalan authorities, the families and allies of fallen capos have taken over operations, but their grip on power is often more tenuous, paving the way for new organizations to emerge.

The situation has been further complicated by the collapse of Mexico’s Zetas, who had seized control of much of the country’s drug trafficking routes in a violent offensive after first arriving in the country in 2007.

SEE ALSO: The Zetas in Guatemala

However, none of this has done much to affect the flow of cocaine. The supply from South America remains steady, and Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel is a ready buyer of product from Guatemala’s transport organizations. 

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