Guatemala to Create US-Backed Anti-Drug Task Force

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Guatemala, with the help of the US, is set to establish a special army unit tasked with combating drug trafficking along the country’s Pacific coast.

On March 30, the Guatemalan Defense Ministry announced the creation of a new military outfit to police trafficking corridors to the west of the country. According to Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto (pictured), the Tecun Uman Task Force — named after the last Mayan ruler — will crack down on drug smuggling along the Pacific coast and in the western province of San Marcos.

The unit will receive partial funding from the US, which will also provide vehicles, communications equipment and other technical support.

Anzueto claims that, thanks to an increase in helicopter patrols, drug flights through Guatemala have fallen significantly. Whereas authorities detected some 60 aircraft carrying drugs in 2011, they have only detected three so far this year. Meanwhile, transnational drug trafficking organizations have increased their reliance on drug shipments along the country’s coasts. According to Anzueto, nearly 70 percent of drugs that pass through Guatemala are smuggled via its coasts, especially along the Pacific.

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Anzueto’s praise of helicopter patrols is somewhat surprising, considering his recent assessment of the country’s helicopter fleet. In March, the defense minister claimed that a tragic crash had left the country with only two active helicopters.

The announcement of a new unit comes at a time of mild tension between Guatemala and the US. President Otto Perez has caused concern in the US over his efforts to open a debate on drug legalization, and the Guatemalan leader has accused the US government of interfering with his attempts to build support for the idea in the region.

As InSight Crime has reported, however, it is possible that Perez is only raising the issue of drug legalization in an attempt to pressure the US to lift its ban on military aid to Guatemala. With the funding of this task force, the Obama administration may be signaling its willingness to pressure Congress to do so.

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