Guatemala Points To Zetas Involvement in Clashes that Prompted State of Siege

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Authorities are reportedly investigating the possible involvement of the Zetas in a recent clash between local residents and the military in northern Guatemala. However, to suggest the Zetas have a stake in what appears to be a political issue is a stretch, and may be a move to discredit the protesters.

The Guatemalan government declared a state of siege in the town of Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango, along the Mexican border, after a local army outpost was overrun on May 1 by 200 people armed with machetes and guns. The group were reportedly protesting the killing of an activist, Andres Francisco Miguel, who opposed the contruction of a controversial hydroelectric dam in the area.

Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Ronny Urizar told Mexican newspaper El Universal that authorities are considering multiple causes for the riot, including the possible involvement of the Mexican Zetas drug gang.

President Otto Perez has said that state of siege will remain in place for 30 days and echoed Urizar’s thoughts that drug traffickers operating in the area could have been involved, according to the BBC.

InSight Crime Analysis

Guatemala’s northern border with Mexico is a hotbed for drug traffickers, particularly the Zetas, who arrived in Guatemala in 2007 and have since fought hard for control of several crucial trafficking corridors. One of their main points of entry came through the Huehuetenango province in the north.

[See InSight Crime’s 2011 special on the Zetas in Guatemala]

To suggest, however, that they would involve themselves in what appears to be a political confrontation between the local population, the security forces, and big business is a stretch. It seems particularly dubious that they would join the protesters. Aiding the residents provides no immediate benefit to the Zetas and would be counter-productive to their trafficking operations, as it would draw increased attention from the government. It seems more likely that these allegations of the Zetas’ involvement are simply intended to discredit the protestors.

If anything, examples from elsewhere in the region show criminal groups to often be on the side of big businesses rather than the protesters, thanks to the financial gain on offer. This has been most true in Colombia where paramilitary groups have been shown to side with large agri-business operations to clear people off their land and take a share of the ensuing profit.

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