Guatemala Sentences Zetas to a Thousand Years in Prison

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Guatemala sentenced 36 members of the Mexican Zetas gang to a combined 1,250 years in prison, including seven people who killed and dismembered a prosecutor last year.

On Wednesday, a court handed down sentences ranging from two to 158 years for crimes including drug possession, kidnapping, arms trafficking and murder, reported Prensa Libre.

One of those to receive the highest sentence was Hugo Alvaro Gomez Vasquez, alias “Comandante Bruja” (Witch Commander), a presumed leader of the Zetas faction in Guatemala. He was arrested last year over the massacre of 27 farm workers in the northern state of Peten. He is yet to be convicted for this crime, however, and he and nine others sentenced Wednesday are still under investigation for the massacre.

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

The prosecutor behind Bruja’s arrest, Allan Stowlinsky Vidaurre, was killed and dismembered by the Zetas. As Reuters reports, seven of the 36 on trial were sentenced for Stowlinsky’s murder, among them Elder Estuardo Morales Madrid, another leader of the group, who was the only other defendant to receive 158 years.

InSight Crime Analysis

These sentences mark a significant step forward for Guatemala, where the rate of impunity is throught to stand at around 98 percent, one of the worst levels in Latin America.

However, despite the capture and sentencing of those responsible for Stowlinsky’s murder, the group’s power shows no signs of diminishing, and the Interior Ministry declared last month that the Zetas have a strong presence in over a third of the country.

The Zetas arrived in Guatemala in 2007, fostering ties with the now-captured Guatemalan drug trafficker Horst Walther Overdick. They shot to public attention with the slaughter of the farm laborers last year, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency in Peten. The gang are particularly strong in the province, and hung banners there in March threatening to launch attacks on civilians if the government kept pursuing them.

Guatemala is set to deploy 500 extra military personnel, including 300 Kaibiles special forces, to Peten by the end of this month in an effort to counter Zetas operations in the lawless border state.

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