San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guatemala Warns of ‘Colombianization’ of Country

GUATEMALA CITY (EFE) – In thisnorthernmost Central American country,considered the principal transshipmentpoint for South American cocaine boundfor the big U.S. market, at least seven wellestablished cartels are trafficking drugsfrom Colombia, Bolivia, Peru andEcuador, according to an investigation bythe local press.The daily Prensa Libre, citing U.S.diplomats as well as government officials,asserts that drug cartels, particularlyColombian, are gradually taking over thecountry.Most of the drugs are brought into thecountry by boats along both Atlantic andPacific coastlines. The powder then travelsby land, sea and air to northern Mexico’sSinaloa state and the lawless bordermetropolis of Ciudad Juarez, from where itis smuggled into the United States, theinvestigation found.The U.S. Embassy here says 90% ofthe estimated 150 tons of cocaine that enterGuatemala every year is for re-export tothe north.Guatemala’s Ministry of the Interiorhas identified seven distinct cartels operatingwithin the country and linked them tospecific regions.Guatemalan security forces have seizednearly 29 tons of cocaine over the past fiveyears, including a seven-ton score off thePacific coast by the U.S. DrugEnforcement Agency last February, when21 Colombian smugglers were detainedand brought to the United States.Last week, Guatemala’s attorney general,Juan Luis Florido, said that narcoticstrafficking has become the country’s singlegravest scourge.The cartels’ economic power, he said,has allowed them to acquire large tracks ofreal estate all over the country, includingnear its borders. These large plots of landallow the cartels to operate with impunity,using light planes to ferry drug shipmentsin and out via clandestine airstrips, he said.Florido also said that drug kingpinsoften use the armed and violent membersof Guatemala’s youth gangs as assassinsand couriers.Vice-President Eduardo Stein hasacknowledged that the country is headingtoward “Colombianization,” alluding tothe power that drug traffickers have andare continuing to acquire in certain government,political and business circles.

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