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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    SAN BENITO, Guatemala — Guatemalan authorities on Monday identified 15 of 27 migrant farm workers beheaded near the Mexican border in a weekend massacre they blamed on Mexico's brutal Zetas drug gang.

    The killings at "Los Cocos" farm in La Libertad, in the Peten region some 600 kilometers (373 miles) north of the capital Guatemala City, were the worst in the violent Central American nation's recent history.

    Three minors and two women were among the victims, authorities said.
    Among those identified, the youngest victim was 13 years old.

    Interior Minister Carlos Menocal said Monday that the killers had been seeking to murder the farm's owner in a region where the Zetas are blamed for rising violence.

    "We believe that the Zetas were seeking Otto Salguero (the owner), because the weekend massacre raised suspicions he was implicated in drug trafficking," Menocal told Emisoras Unidas radio.

    "We don't yet have conclusive proof that he was involved in drug trafficking," he added.

    Thirty to 40 men armed with assault rifles stormed the farm, asking the workers for the owner's whereabouts, Menocal said.

    One of three survivors told AFP that the hitmen said they were looking for Salguero.

    "I was washing when they told us not to move and started to shoot. They started killing at around 7 pm Saturday and finished at around 3 am Sunday," he added, declining to reveal his name.

    "I'm alive thanks to God. I played dead when they stabbed me in the stomach, then I hid and left at around 5 am and I came across a pile of human heads," said the pale-faced 23-year-old in a Guatemala hospital bed.
    A doctor from the National Institute of Forensic Sciences on Monday read out the names of 15 victims, outside a morgue in nearby San Benito.

    Earlier reports put the death toll slightly higher.

    Menocal blamed the killings, as well as a string of recent murders in the area, on the Zetas -- a Mexican drug gang with tentacles stretching from the southwestern United States into Central America.

    Police chief Jaime Otzin said investigators were probing possible links to the murder on Saturday of Haroldo Lara Leon, a farmer and brother of the late drug trafficker Juan Jose Leon, who was killed by the Zetas gang in 2008.
    Four teams of investigators and a police special forces unit were sent to search for clues in an area where the Zetas have been known to operate.

    The Zetas have already spread fear across Mexico for their alleged involvement in a string of massacres, kidnappings and beheadings.

    They were formed in the 1990s by former elite Mexican military personnel who became enforcers for the Gulf cartel. The groups are now engaged in a brutal turf war in parts of Mexico.

    The Zetas are also reportedly seeking to control the lucrative trafficking corridor through northern Guatemala from local groups, seizing rural farms to use as depots for drugs and weapons.

    A spike in violence prompted the Guatemalan government last December to declare a month-long "state of siege" in the northern department of Alta Verapaz.

    Guatemala already has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America, an average of 18 per day.

    The high numbers of homicides and systemic failure of the judicial system in a country where 98 percent of crimes go unpunished led the United Nations to create the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which began operations in late 2007.

    Guatemala's violence still pales, however, in comparison with brutal massacres seen in Mexico's drug war, blamed for some 37,000 deaths since December 2006, when authorities launched a military crackdown on the illegal drug gangs.

    By Edgar Calderon (AFP) –
    may 16, 2011



  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Guatemala Targets Drug Gangs After Massacre

    MEXICO CITY—Guatemalan soldiers searched Tuesday for the culprits of a massacre in a remote province after the country's president declared a state of siege there, a sign that Guatemala is escalating its own war against drug traffickers as violence spills over from Mexico.

    The measures came the day after authorities blamed a Mexican drug cartel called Los Zetas for killing and decapitating 27 people in the remote El Petén province. Under the state of siege, security forces may conduct searches and make arrests without warrants, confiscate weapons and break up groups seen as subversive.

    "Guatemala must take on this aggression, aggression which is not just aimed at this country, but also at the entire region," President Álvaro Colom said in a televised speech announcing the state of siege. In an interview with local radio, the president promised to make "important arrests" related to the massacre in the next 48 hours.

    Photographs published by the local press showed a military tank in the El Petén town of Santa Elena as camouflaged soldiers patrolled a nearby street.

    The moves marked the second time in recent months that Mr. Colom declared a state of siege in efforts to combat Mexican traffickers, suggesting Guatemala could be gearing up for the kind of fight against gangs that Mexico began in 2006. In that time, nearly 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico.

    In December, Mr. Colom ordered 600 soldiers into the central Alta Verapaz province where he said outside drug groups were beginning to operate. The operation ended in February.

    Sandino Asturias, a security expert in Guatemala City, warned that El Petén is a far larger and more unstable region than Alta Verapaz, something that could complicate the security forces' chances of success there. He said warrantless searches and detentions also mean prosecutors often lack evidence when it comes time to prosecute suspected drug traffickers. "The state of siege is not the solution," he said.

    El Petén has long been a hot spot for drug trafficking, say Guatemalan and U.S. authorities, a remote jungle area in the country's north, home to few security forces or major cities. In recent years, many airstrips and abandoned planes have been found in the region, suspected to be involved in trafficking from Colombia and Venezuela.

    Its border with Mexico is largely unpatrolled, making it a prime point for human trafficking, another racket of organized crime groups. On Tuesday, Mexican authorities said they had detained 513 immigrants, many from Central America, on the Mexican side of the border being held in "inhuman conditions" inside a U.S.-bound tractor trailer.

    The area is also key to Guatemalan tourism, the home of the popular Mayan ruins like Tikal.

    The Sunday killings rocked Guatemala, a violent country, but one where such massacres are rare. Most of the victims had worked as day laborers in a dairy ranch known as "Los Cocos," according to news reports, and the perpetrators had written messages in blood that they were looking for the ranch owner.

    As Mexico has stepped up its crackdown against its own drug cartels, experts say they have expanded their operations into neighboring Guatemala.

    "Guatemala possesses many essential features of an ideal transshipment point…accessibility by drug trafficking organizations via air and sea; weak public institutions; endemic corruption; and vast ungoverned spaces along its borders," according to a 2011 State Department report on drugs.

    /May 17, 2011

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