Mexican drug traffickers set up new cells in Central America
Los Zetas, one of the most violent drug gangs in Mexico, has recruited local former military agents, terrorized migrants, and lured poor farmers and youths to work as hired hands.
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Reports of training camps in Guatemala surfaced as early as 2006, along with rumors of alliances with former Kaibiles, Guatemalan special ops forces, says George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.Skip to next paragraph
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Talks to form anti-cartel alliances
The Zetas were soon spreading to Honduras and El Salvador, both of which have recently expressed concern about a rise in bloodshed in their already violent borders. The Central American countries and Mexico are in talks to form anti-cartel alliances, with Honduras and Mexico forming a commission Wednesday to prevent abuses against migrants crossing Mexico to the US border.
In Guatemala, the Zetas have recruited among the rural poor, who cannot make ends meet working on coffee farms, says Jorge Morales Toj, an activist with the Guatemala City-based Maya Youth Movement. Often comprised entirely of local ex-military and ex-police, the cells appear to be entirely homegrown, with no overt Mexican chain of command, Morales Toj says. They roam the streets packing heavy weaponry, intimidating residents, and forcing some to hand over their homes, he says.
Isaacs blames the Zetas’ southward expansion on a “balloon effect,” where pressure on the cartels from authorities in Mexico has driven them to other parts. Grayson, who is coauthoring a book on Los Zetas, disagrees that Mexico is succeeding in driving cartels away, but that they are expanding in order to consolidate important drug routes between Honduras and Mexico.
Malcolm Beith, a freelance journalist and author of a book on the drug war “The Last Narco” says it is up to Mexican authorities to curb the Zetas expansion: “If they manage to control coordination between what are effectively independent – albeit ruthless – gangs, then the Zetas won't be able to consolidate in Guatemala and other Central American nations.”