From EL FARO ENGLISH: Just How Powerful Are Guatemalan Drug Rings?

Jul 8, 2022
2:07 PM

The Spanish initials of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel are painted on a wall at the entrance to a neighborhood in Aguililla, Michoacán, Mexico, April 23, 2021. (Photo by Enrique Castro/AFP via El Faro)

Guatemala, in Brief: The Huehuetenango-based crime ring Los Huistas is trafficking cocaine produced by Colombian FARC dissidents for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel through the turf of its rival, the Sinaloa Cartel. The arrests of colluding Guatemalan military officers and the Huistas’ family ties to legislators beg the question of just how far the drug trade has penetrated the government and politics.

Playing Two Hands

There’s an eerily familiar tale playing out on Guatemala’s ever-changing organized crime map.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) is working with Guatemala’s Los Huistas crime group to traffic cocaine from the Second Marquetalia, a militia that split from the Colombian FARC after the 2016 Peace Accords. CJNG is moving its product in territory long-held, seemingly paradoxically, by the rivaling Sinaloa Cartel, reports El Faro’s Julie López.

CJNG has been active in Mexico for years, notes López, but their loud incursion into the Guatemalan department of Huehuetenango in June 2021 drew comparisons to the entrance of the Zetas in the country a decade before. If you’ve read the book A History of Violence by El Faro’s editor-in-chief Óscar Martínez, you may recall his vivid depiction of the Mexican ex-commandos’ takeover in the 2011 chronicle, Guatemala Is Spelled With a Z.

“If granted the oft-repeated phrase that, in terms of drugs, Mexico is the backyard of the United States, then Central America is that of Mexico,” wrote Martínez. “It’s a littered and overgrown backyard, connected to Mexico by a single door. The Guatemalan border would be the closest thing to that door.”

Guatemala’s former minister of governance tells López that the drug trade is now evolving into one where rivals CJNG and Sinaloa can lean on the same middleman, Los Huistas: “It’s a cooperative manner of doing business. It’s no longer a single-group operation, but a cluster of people with similar interests.”

Political Ties

The arrests by Guatemalan authorities of strategically-situated military officers colluding with the CJNG make it increasingly clear that the cartel has a foothold in the armed forces. And a major question-mark is the influence of their Guatemalan partners, Los Huistas, in the Guatemalan legislature: the public prosecutor’s office identified the brother of Congresswoman Sofía Hernández Herrera, first vice-president of Congress last year, as a member of the Huistas. He was killed in January 2021.

It’s not the only instance. Aler Samayoa Recinos, identified as the head of the Huistas, has a daughter, a son-in-law, and his mother-in-law serving as Guatemala’s representatives to the Central American Parliament since 2020.

These family affairs present a paradox, given that one of President Alejandro Giammattei’s key assets with Washington Republicans as he fends off major corruption probes is his willingness to align himself rhetorically with the war on drugs, to publicize major cocaine busts, and extradite dozens of traffickers.

Read López’s report or listen to it, in her voice, in El Faro English Audio. Time will tell whether the country will be rewritten with a gruesome ‘J’.

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