Was Attack on Guatemala Mayor Linked to Drug Trafficking?

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A mayor from a Guatemala town located along a major drug route was attacked while visiting a border town in El Salvador, raising questions about who was behind the incident and why.

On October 19, a mayor in Guatemala’s Chiquimula province, Juan Antonio Vanegas Hernandez, was shot while visiting the city of Metapan in El Salvador, reported Prensa Libre. According to police, Vanegas received a bullet wound in the neck, while a man accompanying the mayor was killed in the attack, reported La Prensa Grafica.  

Chiquimula — which borders both Honduras and El Salvador — is an important drug hub, as shown in a map of Guatemalan drug trafficking routes published by Prensa Libre (see below), which shows a route passing through the province. The map identifies nine other drug trafficking routes, which start in either Honduras, El Salvador, or Belize and pass through Guatemala en route to Mexico.

According to elPeriodico, Vanegas is also allegedly tied to Jose Manuel Lopez Morales, alias “El Che”, who is wanted for drug trafficking in Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States in connection with Honduras’ Valle Valle drug clan. On September 27, Lopez Morales’ wife was captured in Chiquimula in an operation involving the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

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InSight Crime Analysis

The fact the mayor was from Chiquimula province, coupled with allegations he has drug trafficking ties, indicates the attack was likely not random. Chiquimula is a major transit point for drug and contraband smuggling, which is facilitated by the existence of hundreds of “puntos ciegos” (unguarded border crossings) along the border with Honduras. It also has a homicide rate more than double the national rate.

For years, Guatemala has struggled with the influence wielded by criminal groups in the country’s government. As reported by InSight Crime, corruption in Guatemala, especially within the judicial system, has essentially turned the country into a mafia state. 

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

The same toxic mix of politics and organized crime exists in the rest of the Northern Triangle region (formed by Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador). The Salvadoran city of Metapan, where the mayor was shot, also has a significant drug trafficking presence. The Texis Cartel — which transports cocaine for Colombian and Mexican organizations — uses the city as its primary base of operations, where it relies on the support of Salvadoran officials including Metapan’s mayor, who is allegedly among the leaders of the criminal group. Meanwhile, the mayor of El Paraiso, the former operational center of the Valle Valle clan in Honduras, is accused of protecting the group and even running his own operations

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