GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – US and Guatemalan agents captured Guatemala’s top drug trafficker yesterday as the United States pitches in to help curb drug cartels’ expanding reach in Central America.
Soldiers and police in helicopters swooped into Guatemala’s second largest city, Quetzaltenango, and arrested Juan Ortiz-Lopez in his home, where he appeared to be only lightly guarded by two men, the Guatemalan interior ministry said.
Ortiz-Lopez, 41, is considered Guatemala’s most important drug smuggler by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, an indictment by a US prosecutor said.
Heavily armed agents landed at the air force base in Guatemala City with Ortiz-Lopez, handcuffed and wearing a leather jacket, and escorted him and two bodyguards to court.
The suspects are accused of smuggling tonnes of cocaine through Guatemala to Mexico and the United States over the past decade, according to the US indictment.
“This is the capture of a big fish,” Guatemala’s Interior Minister Carlos Menocal told a news conference. He said Ortiz-Lopez and his associates were likely to be extradited to the United States.
Ortiz-Lopez’s capture follows the arrest in October of his henchman, Mauro Solomon, in another joint operation as Washington tries to stop Guatemala from being sucked deeper into Mexico’s drugs wars.
Guatemala is struggling to prevent Mexican cartels from destabilizing parts of the country, a poor but democratic US trading partner and a major coffee and sugar exporter.
Officials worry that Central America’s weak governments do not have the capacity to contain the spreading threat of cartels as their armies and police are no match for gangs equipped with rocket launchers and semi-automatic weapons.