Guatemala Arms Trafficking Routes Mirror Drug Trafficking Hot Spots

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A new report has provided additional information on arms trafficking routes in Guatemala, showing that they appear to mirror the drug trafficking hot spots utilized by the country’s criminal groups.

Between July and September, Guatemala’s National Police (Policia Nacional Civil – PNC) carried out a series of operations to identify organized crime groups and arms trafficking routes, elPeriódico reported. The three-month operation saw authorities seize explosive materials and several high-powered rifles, among other contraband.

According to authorities in charge of the operations, the two departments that saw the largest number of firearms seized were Guatemala’s northernmost Petén department and southern Escuintla department along the country’s Pacific coast. 

17-10-02 Guate Arms Graphic

(Graphic c/o elPeriódico)

The concentration of seizures in these two areas is due to their strategic location and ability to connect to the rest of the country, according to Guatemala’s Weapons and Explosives Investigation and Deactivation Division (División de Investigación y Desactivación de Armas y Explosivos – DIDAE).

Many of the trafficking routes identified by authorities funneled into Guatemala City, the capital and largest metropolitan area. National police official Stu Velasco told elPeriódico that the areas of Zona 18 to the north of the capital and Villa Nueva to the south were two of the most impacted by the operations.

InSight Crime Analysis

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the new data suggests that the guns in Guatemala tend to go mostly to where the country’s criminal groups operate.

Pacific routes have grown in importance lately as Atlantic trafficking routes originating in Colombia are becoming increasingly targeted by authorities. Escuintla is an ideal place for trafficking, and criminal groups have long battled for control over the coastal province due to its proximity to the capital and it being home to the country’s largest Pacific port, Puerto Quetzal.

And Petén, on the border with Mexico, is an important overland trafficking hub as much of the cocaine destined for the United States passes through this region.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking

Indeed, the arms trafficking routes identified by authorities correspond with areas some of Guatemala’s most notorious criminal families formerly concentrated their criminal operations. For example, the Mendozas, who smuggled contraband before becoming one of Central America’s major drug trafficking organizations, had their base of operations in Petén before losing much of their territory to Mexico’s Zetas.

The link between arms trafficking and the drug trade may seem obvious, but it is important for authorities to understand and address, as guns remain a driving force behind violence in Latin America. As InSight Crime reported in an April investigation, most of the murders in Guatemala between 2014 and 2015 were committed with firearms.

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