Gunmen working for Los Zetas, considered Mexico’s most violent drug cartel, murdered at least 29 farmworkers over the weekend in a community in northern Guatemala near the Mexican border, officials said. On Tuesday, it was reported that two members of Los Zetas were killed and another captured by Guatemalan authorities, following the attacks.
The bodies of the farmworkers were found Sunday at the Los Cocos ranch outside the city of La Libertad, located about 630 kilometers (391 miles) north of Guatemala City, National Civilian Police, or PNC, deputy chief Gerson Oliva said.
About 200 heavily armed men belonging to Los Zetas’ Z 200 cell arrived in Los Cocos on Saturday night and attacked the farmworkers, PNC investigators said.
Initial police reports said the victims died in a shootout, but investigators later revised their report after gathering evidence at the crime scene.
The massacre occurred early Sunday and the victims were beheaded by the gunmen, the PNC said.
Dozens of soldiers were sent to the border with Mexico, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Los Cocos, army spokesman Col. Rony Urizar told Efe.
“Aerial and land surveillance has been ordered, and we are coordinating with Mexican authorities to prevent (those behind the massacre) from escaping across the border,” Urizar said.
Los Cocos is in Peten, a province covered by dense jungles that is used by international drug traffickers to smuggle narcotics from South America into Mexico.
The unidentified farmworkers were employed at Los Cocos, which was owned by Haroldo Waldemar Leon Lara.
Leon Lara was murdered Saturday on the outskirts of Flores, another city in Peten.
He was the brother of Juan Jose Leon, a Guatemalan drug trafficker who operated in the eastern region of the country and was murdered along with 10 other people by Zetas gunmen in March 2008.
Haroldo Waldemar Leon Lara was driving from Flores to Los Cocos when he was killed, investigators said, adding that the rancher was carrying 250,000 quetzales (about $31,200) in cash to pay his workers.
Los Zetas may have carried out both the rancher’s killing and the massacre at the ranch, investigators said.
PNC drug enforcement agents and prosecutors are at Los Cocos to gather evidence for the investigation and try to determine the motive for the massacre.
Los Zetas has been blamed for several massacres in Mexico, including the killings last August of 72 migrants, the majority of them from Latin America, at a ranch outside San Fernando, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
The cartel is also suspected of being behind the killings of 183 people whose remains were found in 40 mass graves in Tamaulipas in the past few weeks.
Los Zetas has been battling rivals in several states for control of smuggling routes into the United States.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as “El Lazca,” deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After about a decade on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
Los Zetas, in addition to trafficking drugs, is also involved in kidnappings, armed robberies and extortion rackets.
On Monday, Costa Rica’s Foreign Ministry sent out a message expressing “solidarity” with Guatemala after the brutal killings. The ministry also repeated its commitment to fighting narco-trafficking in the region.