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Los Zetas en Centroamérica. Cable 09GUATEMALA106

Febrero, 2009. El cable informa acerca de la presencia de los Zetas en Cobán, Guatemala.

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La presencia de los Zetas crece en Guatemala. Publicado el 13 de febrero.


Fecha: 6 de febrero, 2009

Emisor: Embajada de Estados Unidos en Guatemala

Destinatario: Secretaria de Estado

Clave: 09GUATEMALA106

Clasificación: Confidencial 


2009-02-06 10:15:00
Embassy Guatemala
DE RUEHGT #0106/01 0371015
P 061015Z FEB 09
OF 04 GUATEMALA 000106 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/04/2019
REF: A. 2008 GUATEMALA 387 
B. 2008 GUATEMALA 1593 
Classified By: Pol/Econ Counselor Drew 
Blakeney for reasons 1.4 (b&d). 
1. (C) Confronted by the threat from 
three narcotrafficking groups, including recently arrived "Zetas" 
from Mexico, the local Rule of Law (ROL) apparatus in the northern city 
of Coban is no longer capable of dealing with the most serious kinds 
of crime. What is happening there is typical of many rural areas of 
Guatemala. Sources tell us that Coban's police are corrupt and allied 
with traffickers, and sometimes even provide them escort. Some judges 
and prosecutors are too frightened to do their jobs properly; others 
are in league with the traffickers. Asserting that security is not his 
job, the mayor is turning a blind eye to the narco-violence in Coban's 
streets. Wholesale restructuring of the ROL apparatus -- not mere personnel 
changes -- would be required for the state to adequately reassert its 
authority. End Introduction. 
Mexican Zetas Settling Down in Coban...
2. (C) Prompted by accounts that more 
than 100 Mexican "Zetas" (the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, 
members of which are former soldiers) have taken up residence, Pol/Econ 
Counselor visited the northern city of Coban, Guatemala, January 11-13. 
AID officer made a follow-on trip to the region Jan. 20-22. Coban, which 
is the capital of Alta Verapaz Department, and its surrounding areas 
have a population of approximately 150,000. Most inhabitants are from 
the Q'Eqchi' and Poqomchi' indigenous groups, though the area has many 
Spanish-speaking Ladinos as well. A September 2, 2008 shoot-out in front 
of the shopping mall involving Mexican and Guatemalan traffickers armed 
with military weapons brought Coban's growing narcotrafficking problem 
to national attention. Coban is no longer the peaceful place it was 
just a year and a half ago, although some interlocutors reported that 
the Zetas are now trying to keep a lower profile in order to avoid national 
and international attention. 
...with Help from Local Authorities
3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX, a ten-year resident of 
Coban, said there were three main narcotrafficking groups/leaders in 
Coban: Walter Overdic Mejia, the local representative of the Guatemalan 
Lorenzana Family of Zacapa; "El Loco" Turcios, the local representative 
of the Mendoza drug trafficking family of Izabal; and most recently, 
more than 100 Mexican Zetas. Overdic had invited the Zetas in, thinking 
he could arrange a lucrative partnership, but now the Zetas are taking 
over, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. They are buying land forming a corridor to 
the Mexican border, and have met with local African palm growers to 
tell them which land they can buy and which they cannot. They kidnapped 
some of the growers, employees to underline their point. 
4. (C) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, scores of 
mid- and lower-ranking Zetas have taken up residence in "El Esfuerzo 
1" and "El Esfuerzo 2," two poor neighborhoods in Coban,s 
western Zone 12, adjacent to the airport. (Comment: During a visit to 
the two impoverished neighborhoods, Pol/Econ Qa visit to the two impoverished 
neighborhoods, Pol/Econ Counselor observed many idle youths. It appeared 
that they could easily be manipulated by outsiders with money.) XXXXXXXXXXXX 
said immigration authorities are helping the Zetas obtain Guatemalan 
passports and other documents to normalize their status in the country. 
The Zetas also are believed to operate a training camp in the area. 
In separate conversations with AID officer, XXXXXXXXXXXX, native of 
Coban, said Zetas freely use the airport, even during daylight hours. 
5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said he had seen police 
XXXXXXXXXXXX personally escorting the Zetas. In addition to assisting 
the Zetas, XXXXXXXXXXXX has been in the employ of both of the main Guatemalan 
rival traffickers, Turcios and Overdic, and has betrayed both, according 
to XXXXXXXXXXXX. One or the other may 
GUATEMALA 00000106 002 OF 004  
assassinate him soon, XXXXXXXXXXXX 
speculated. He noted that the September firefight with military weapons 
occurred in front of the shopping mall, 500 meters from the police station. 
The PNC did not respond. The genesis of the firefight, according to 
XXXXXXXXXXXX, was Overdic had sent Jorge Flores to ambush the Zetas 
in retaliation for their March 25 murder of Juan Leon in Zacapa (ref 
b). When the SAIA (Counternarcotics Analysis and Information Service) 
briefly detained Overdic,s wife and son, Overdic announced on local 
radio that if they were not immediately freed, he would "blow up 
the shopping mall, and the commercial center of town." Storekeepers 
duly closed for the day, and the mall was evacuated. Mrs. Overdic was 
released. (Note: During a search of the Overdics' bodyguards' quarters, 
investigators allegedly found three checks to Army Colonel Carlos Adolfo 
Mancilla, according to the International Commission Against Impunity 
in Guatemala (CICIG). Mancilla has since been promoted to Brigadier 
General and made Deputy Chief of Staff, ref b.) 
Mayor, Police Chief Don't See a Problem
6. (C) From Coban but not having lived there 
since childhood, Mayor Leonel Chacon of the FRG left the textile business 
in Guatemala City to return home to run for mayor. He was eager to discuss 
his economic development plans with Pol/Econ Counselor, but was visibly 
nervous when asked to discuss security and narcotics trafficking. He 
said that narcotraffickers could at times be seen in Coban, but had 
no negative impact on local life. He dismissed reports of Zetas in Coban 
as "rumors," and did not react to mention of the September 
shoot-out, Walter Overdic, and Overdic,s alleged murder of an appellate 
court judge two years ago. "I don't have a problem with anybody," 
Chacon said. He mentioned that common crime has long remained at a constant, 
low level. Despite the mayor's assurances, XXXXXXXXXXXX told AID officer 
that local cocaine consumption was growing, and that the narcotraffickers' 
local transportation network now includes many taxi drivers and small 
7. (C) Police XXXXXXXXXXXX told Pol/Econ Counselor 
that narcotraffickers occasionally use the Coban area as a transportation 
corridor, but do not disrupt local life. He said the September shoot-out 
was Juan Leon's supporters ambushing Mexican Zetas. "It doesn't 
worry me if they want to kill each other," XXXXXXXXXXXX said. Key 
to interrupting narcotraffickers' operations is more patrolling, he 
asserted, but with just 280 PNC officers to cover the whole of Alta 
Verapaz Department, that was not possible. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he personally 
had transported Walter "The Tiger" Overdic to jail on several 
occasions during his previous assignment to the area, but since judges 
freed him each time, there was little point in going after him or other 
narcotraffickers again. Common crime has long remained at a constant, 
low level. Youths from impoverished Zone 12, at the western end of Coban, 
are trying to imitate Guatemala City gang members, but so far haven't 
been much of a problem, XXXXXXXXXXXX said. (Note: Mayor XXXXXXXXXXXX 
and Mayor XXXXXXXXXXXX and Mayor of XXXXXXXXXXXX separately told AID 
officer that Alta Verapaz residents tend to report drug crimes to municipal 
authorities rather than to the police because they are convinced that 
Chief Sandoval and his officers are in league with traffickers. End 
Judicial Workers Intimidated
8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said his conscience was 
clear, and that he was doing the best job he could while bearing in 
mind Coban,s "new realities." (Note: XXXXXXXXXXXX is one of 
three judges who may have made decisions helpful to Overdic, according 
to CICIG.) "I do not wish to become a martyr," XXXXXXXXXXXX 
said, noting that he drives himself to work, has no security, and his 
family lives nearby. Local police are corrupt, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, and 
he did not know whom to trust within local rule of law institutions. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX acknowledged the local presence of Zetas and other traffickers, 
but would not go into details. He said it was time to consider a new, 
extraordinary arrangement that would provide protection for judicial 
workers and their families. Anonymity would have to be part of the arrangement, 
which would need to include far 
GUATEMALA 00000106 003 OF 004  
more robust investigative and policing 
9. (C) Criminal Prosecutor XXXXXXXXXXXX of 
the Public Ministry (MP, the Attorney General's Office) told Pol/Econ 
Counselor that she "had never intended to join the army, or do 
any other job likely to get (her) killed" when she became a prosecutor 
decades ago. XXXXXXXXXXXX. When she drives herself to work each morning, 
she goes past a line of inmates, family members, who are awaiting access 
to their loved ones inside, she said. "I put some of those inmates 
in that prison. Do you think their family members notice me when I drive 
by? Do you think they point at me? They do," she said. Mentioning 
that she regularly rides public busses alone, XXXXXXXXXXXX said she 
would like to vigorously pursue cases against narcotraffickers, but 
feels too vulnerable to do so. Furthermore, she said, local police were 
not trustworthy. Her workload is on the rise: the Coban MP's common 
criminal case load had increased from 300-400/month two years ago to 
600-800 now, and was distributed among three prosecutors and four assistants. 
"We cannot go on like this ... something has got to change," 
she concluded. There was consensus among AID officer's interlocutors 
that judges and prosecutors are turning a blind eye to narcotraffickers 
because they fear for their lives, and those of their family members. 
Better Leadership in Neighboring Tactic
10. (C) Pol/Econ Counselor also traveled to 
three ethnic Poqomchi, towns immediately south of Coban -- Santa Cruz, 
San Cristobal Verapaz, and Tactic. Unsatisfied with the usual mayors, 
answer that they do not deal with security issues, Hugo Rolando Caal 
Co, the newly-elected Mayor of Tactic, decided he would. He organized 
neighborhood "intelligence committees" to gather information 
on outsiders and criminals, which report information to the Mayor's 
Office, which then reports it to ROL authorities. He is also installing 
street cameras that will be monitored from a central site at the municipality 
building. Caal said he is considering joint security initiatives with 
the mayors of the other three ethnic Poqomchi' towns -- Tamahu, Santa 
Cruz Verapaz, and San Cristobal Verapaz. He noted that it is easy for 
residents of the four Poqomchi' towns to spot outsiders because they 
generally do not speak Poqomchi'. Caal Co hoped to capitalize on the 
Poqomchis' unique linguistic identity for the community's security benefit. 
11. (C) Caal said a recent, gruesome murder 
made him think for the first time that perhaps narcotraffickers had 
come to Tactic. Hundreds of townspeople had attempted to lynch the suspected 
perpetrators on the morning of January 13 (during Pol/Econ Counselor's 
visit), but PNC Chief Sandoval and his men arrived to take the suspects 
into custody. Caal was critical of ROL authorities, saying they needed 
to be more efficient and vigilant. He and other municipal leaders told 
AID officer that the PNC's living and working conditions are not such 
as to inspire loyalty to the state, and that the GOG needs to do more 
for its police, starting with better Qneeds to do more for its police, 
starting with better salaries. In the meantime, Caal Co told AID officer, 
the army, which is a stronger institution, should do more joint patrolling 
with the police. This would serve to strengthen the state's law enforcement 
presence and might encourage better police comportment. 
12. (C) Judge XXXXXXXXXXXX opined that the 
ROL apparatus is broken. The PNC and MP often accuse judges of freeing 
criminals, but the Penal Code was written in such as a way as to make 
that the likeliest outcome. Guatemala desperately needs to reform its 
Penal Code, he said. In cases in which laws, sentencing provisions conflict, 
such as in the case of the Femicide Law (a copy of which he had on his 
desk) and the Penal Code, judges were forced to apply the lesser sentence. 
Despairing of the status quo, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, "Soon there will 
be no choice but to resort to martial law." While Tactic had remained 
relatively quiet, XXXXXXXXXXXX said Coban was out of control. He related 
that three truckloads of Zetas recently stopped a police patrol to inform 
the two PNC officers that a narcotrafficking operation was imminent. 
The PNC officers should remain silent and go on their way, "unless 
either of you are dissatisfied with your salaries, in which case you 
should come with us," the Zetas had told the 
GUATEMALA 00000106 004 OF 004  
13. (C) Coban's ROL infrastructure was never 
intended to deal with the kind of threats to public order that it now 
faces, and is collapsing. The process of loss of state control now underway 
in Coban has already occurred in other parts of the country, including 
Zacapa and Izabal Departments, as well as parts of Jutiapa, Chiquimula, 
San Marcos, and Peten Departments. Without outside intervention, Coban 
will join the growing list of areas lost to narcotraffickers.


Espero que la gente no vea esto como una historia de heroicismo. Es una historia acerca de lo que la gente normal puede hacer en circunstancias extraordinarias.
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