Who Will Fill Vacuum After Key Guatemala Capture?

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Authorities in Guatemala have captured a powerful Mexico cartel-linked drug kingpin who controlled three key land trafficking routes, raising the question of who will take his place.

Guatemalan Special Forces tracked Jairo Orellana Morales, alias “El Pelon,” to the municipality of Gualan, in the eastern department of Zacapa, where they engaged in a firefight with his bodyguards, reported elPeriodico

Authorities said they had been tracking Orellana since August 2013. After his capture, he was immediately moved to an air force base before being transferred to capital Guatemala City to avoid any rescue attempts, reported Prensa Libre.

InSight Crime Analysis

Orellana entered the drug business at a young age as a gunman for the Lorenzanas, an infamous trafficking family with links to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. He has a child with Marta Lorenzana, the daughter of the family patriarch, Waldemar Lorenzana, who was recently extradited to the United States.

However, Orellana eventually allied himself with the Sinaloa Cartel’s Mexican rivals, the Zetas, whose operations he reportedly directed in Zacapa. His penchant for stealing drug shipments from rivals — a practice known as a “tumbe” — including 1.5 tons of cocaine belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel, saw him nicknamed “King of the Tumbes.”

SEE ALSO: The Zetas in Guatemala

In mid-2013, Orellana’s activities saw him designated by the US Treasury under the Kingpin Act.

But taking him down has not been easy for authorities or his many enemies, which eventually came to include the Zetas. In November 2012, Orellana narrowly escaped being killed by Zetas gunmen at a hospital. Several of his bodyguards were not so lucky and the enemy gunmen, hunting Orellana, shot them execution-style.

While Orellana came up through the ranks of a traditional criminal organization, his success has come from his ability to negotiate and break alliances in ways favorable to him. He joined up with the Zetas when they were rising in power in Guatemala but as their influence waned, he quickly filled the gap by working as a free agent, and he may even have been selling drugs to the rival Sinaloa cartel (see elPeriodico chart showing Orellana’s role in Guatemala’s drug trafficking structure, below).

Orellana also benefitted from a clamp down on air and maritime trafficking routes by authorities, making the three land routes he controlled vital to moving drugs into Mexico. What remains to be seen is who will fill the void left by his capture. 

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