Guatemala to Deploy Controversial Force to Mex Border

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Guatemala announced it will deploy nearly 300 members of special operations force the Kaibiles to its northern border with Mexico, even though the unit has a troubled history of ties to the Zetas.

By June 30, the government will deploy 500 soldiers to an operations base in El Subin, roughly 100 kilometers from the Mexican border. The move is intended to reinfroce state presence in Guatemala’s northern Peten department and counter the threat currently faced by the population from organized crime, a Defense Ministry spokesman told Milenio.

The Kaibiles battalion, Guatemala’s elite commandos, will cover some 300 square kilometers in northern Guatemala, including one municipality, La Libertad, where Mexican criminal groups the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel are both reportedly present. The area is filled with clandestine airstrips used by drug flights, according to one military official.

Following his election last November, President Otto Perez said that he was willing to increase the Kaibiles’ role in the fight against organized crime, starting in 2012.

InSight Crime Analysis

The government has little legitimacy and even less control in the Peten territory, thanks to its sprawling jungle and thin population (the area is home to just three percent of the country’s inhabitants). With an additional 500 troops on the ground, the military will enjoy access it didn’t previously have. But it is only one step towards achieving lasting government control of Peten, and the security situation is unlikely to see any drastic changes in the short term.

The placement of the Kaibiles on the front line of the fight against the Zetas in Guatemala will raise uncomfortable memories of the infamous ties between the two groups. Since making their way into Guatemala in 2007 and establishing a measure of control in the country’s north, the Zetas have been particularly audacious in their recruitment campaigns, in one case even broadcasting an advertisement via radio that urged current and former Kaibiles members to join their side.

[See Part I, II, and III of InSight Crime’s report on the Zetas in Guatemala]

There are some signs that the recruitment campaign has been successful. Last year, several former Kaibiles were reportedly arrested for massacring 10 people on behalf of the Zetas in the Mexican state of Tabasco.

Becoming a member of Guatemala’s special forces is notoriously difficult: just seven out of 40 trainees made it through the selection process last year. This advanced military skill-set makes them particularly attractive to a group like the Zetas who were originally comprised of former Mexican special forces. In an effort to maintain a level of logistical superiority over rival cartels, the Zetas have gone to lengths to recruit former military personnel not only from Mexico and Guatemala but from countries throughout Central America, including El Salvador and Honduras.

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