Guatemala Police Capture then ‘Lose’ Major Drug Trafficker

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Police arrested two drug traffickers in northeastern Guatemala, but apparently subsequently lost both suspects, in an embarrassing case for Guatemalan authorities, who have thus far failed to tackle criminal structures in this largely unsecured part of the country.

According to investigators, police arrested Jose Ranferi Ponce Rodriguez and Walter Antonio Cardona in the Izabal province of Guatemala, near the border with Honduras on October 16, reported elPeriodico. The suspects were brought to a mansion that had been seized from Ponce Rodriguez’s brother following his 2011 arrest.

Special forces responsible for guarding the suspects said they were forced to flee when locals descended on the place the prisoners were being held and began to attack the police agents, before rescuing the suspects, reported the Associated Press.

Oddly, these same forces initially only reported the capture of Ponce Rodriguez, according to El Periodico. Authorities also said that although an arrest warrant for Ponce was issued in July, national police registries produced no mention of his name.

InSight Crime Analysis

Ponce Rodriguez is thought to have inherited the organization of his brother, Mario Ponce Rodriguez, a Guatemalan drug trafficker arrested in Honduras in 2011 and subsequently extradited and sentenced to 25 years in prison in the United States. Mario Ponce maintained business connections with Guatemalan kingpin Walther Overdick, and is believed to have moved cocaine to Mexico on behalf of the Zetas.

Izabal is a province with little security presence, making it an ideal spot for drug traffickers to operate. While recent efforts by authorities have resulted in major blows to criminal organization the Villatoros operating on the west side of the country, this northeastern corridor has remained largely untouched.

In this context, the release of a well-connected drug trafficker and his associate in Izabal before they even made it back to police headquarters is not only an embarrassment for the administration but also a symbol of its continuing failure to tackle organized crime in the region.

While it may be that the police were forced into freeing the suspects as they claim, it is also possible they negotiated their release. Guatemalan police are also notoriously corrupt, with nearly 200 removed for criminal ties in 2012, meaning that the possibility of a pay-off cannot be ruled out.

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