Guatemala captures 22 drug traffickers in sweep

GUATEMALA CITY, (Reuters) – Guatemala captured  nearly two dozen suspected drug traffickers, automatic weapons  and small planes in a country-wide sweep to crack down on  Mexican cartels smuggling drugs through Central America.
The arrests, four yesterday and 18 over the past week,  are the biggest blow yet to Mexico’s “Zetas” drug gang, now  operating in around 75 percent of the Guatemala’s territory,  according to security officials.
“These individuals were not just preparing to confront the  security forces, they were preparing to take control of the  country,” Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom told reporters  last week after sending hundreds of soldiers and police to the  state of Alta Verapaz to take on the cartel.
The government declared a “state of siege” in the remote  state on Dec. 19, which gives security forces expanded powers  to arrest and interrogate suspects while limiting freedom of  movement and assembly for a month.
Police have so far confiscated 239 assault weapons,  explosives, 28 vehicles and five small planes in the raids.
A top leader of the Zetas — formerly a Guatemalan special  forces soldier — was also caught in the operations.
The Zetas, originally formed by Mexican army deserters,  have been known to recruit elite Guatemalan troops, called  Kaibils, who are trained in jungle warfare and infamous for  brutal massacres during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war.
Once the armed wing of Mexico’s Gulf Cartel, the Zetas  broke off on their own and are now fighting their former  employers for control of valuable drug trafficking routes.
Guatemala, with two coasts and a long, porous border with  Mexico, is strategic territory for cartels who use small  planes, trucks and even makeshift submarines to move Colombian  cocaine to consumers in the United States.
Drug lord Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa  cartel, was arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and extradited to  Mexico. Guzman escaped from a maximum security prison in 2000  and is now Mexico’s most wanted man.

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