Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Guatemalan Forces training for battle against Mexican Drug Cartels

By Lindsay Stewart & Jennifer Griffin

Fox News 12/13/10 - About 150 miles north of Guatemala City, deep in the jungle, is a military base where Guatemalan Special Forces are being trained secretly by U.S. Green Berets.

The U.S. officers say the Guatemalan troops are committed to the task of defeating the Mexican drug cartels and are training tirelessly. “They rest when they sleep,” said one Green Beret, who said the Guatemalan officers are engaged in exercises day and night.

The drills often focus on air assault operations, advanced marksmanship and structure breaches using explosives which allow the teams to break down doors while maintaining the element of surprise.

All of this intensive training is for one purpose: to rid Guatemala of the violence and intimidation associated with the drug cartels that have become increasingly pervasive in the last 3 years. Guatemala’s murder rate is now twice that of Mexico where more than 11,000 people have been killed just this year. President Felipe Calderon ordered his military to launch an assault on Mexico’s seven cartels four years ago.

But Guatemala’s military is far smaller than that of its neighbor to the north with 15,500 troops. The small number of soldiers is sanctioned by the government and is a result of the public’s distrust of the armed forces after decades of civil war.

And so Guatemala’s border remains undefended, allowing virtually anyone to cross without question, a fact echoed in U.S. Embassy documents made public by WikiLeaks this week and observed on a recent visit to the border by a Fox News team.

The porous border gives drug cartels free reign in Guatemala.

Police in the suburbs of Guatemala City say many farmers who live along the Mexico-Guatemala border have relinquished their land to Los Zetas, a notorious Mexican cartel known for its brutal tactics. Others have abandoned the border region anticipating that their property would be confiscated and their families would soon be targets.

“They ask how much they can make out the check to their widow,” says one Guatemala City resident who has watched private property and community treasures fall into the hands of Los Zetas, including one popular recreation stop in Peten, in the northern part of the country.

But other farmers are not so lucky. Police say the Zetas brutally tortured then murdered two farmers this year, apparently the punishment for not having information they sought in a brutal interrogation. The Guatemalan Special Forces responded to this incident and arrested two Zeta informants and confiscated weapons including an AK-47 and an M-16 as well as five cars with Mexican license plates.

But last week Los Zetas staged a dramatic prison break in San Marcos near the Mexican border, which is why the elite unit of Guatemalan forces is training particularly hard on the base in northern Guatemala.

And while there are small strides in fighting the cartels in Guatemala with the help of the U.S. Embassy, there are set-backs in other countries within the region.

In Costa Rica, the Sinaloa cartel has been establishing a base, according to recent reports which add that U.S. Drug Enforcement agents expect the presence of Mexico’s most powerful cartel, a rival to Los Zetas, to increase its power base in Costa Rica, a Central American nation which has no military.

Fighting Drug Cartels in Guatemala

El Mas Loco (“The Craziest One”), the head of La Familia drug cartel, died in a hail of gunfire with Mexican authorities.

While Mexico touts the killing as another drug kingpin taken care of, Guatemala, Mexico’s neighbor to the south, is worried about what this success might mean for its own safety. The country fears that the cartels will move south across a porous border using Guatemala as a new base for their operations.

The murder rate in Guatemala is already double that of Mexico, where more than 10,000 drug-related murders have taken place this year.

Now there is evidence that one of Mexico’s most vicious cartels, the Zetas, are setting up bases in Guatemala as they come under increasing pressure from Felipe Calderon’s government. The Zetas have set up training camps and are trying to intimidate Guatemalan cartels. So far they’ve forced at least one Guatemalan drug family to leave the country.

“When you have drug traffickers afraid of other drug traffickers, you know its getting pretty bad,” U.S. Ambassador Stephen McFarland told Fox News at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City.

Earlier this year one of the cartels sent a message to Guatemalans by leaving several decapitated heads on the steps of Parliament.

The Zetas are in a vicious war with Mexico’s Gulf Cartel and are trying to cut out the middle man as they fights for trafficking routes.

Guatemala has long served as one of the main transit points for cocaine into the U.S. The drug arrives by sea from Colombia and Ecuador and then travels by land through Mexico into America. Last year, between 285 and 350 metric tons of cocaine transited Guatemala.

“Just about all of the drugs going through Mexico into the United States go through Guatemala,” McFarland explained.

But the $13- to $25-billion drug trade amounts to more money than the combined defense budgets of all the Latin American countries.

So how do the cartels get their drugs to the U.S.?

For one, they build small semi-submersible submarines in the triple canopy jungles of South America. The crafts can carry between 4 and 10 metric tons of cocaine on board, a payload worth approximately $100 million. Each with a four man crew, the homemade subs can travel up to 4,000 miles without refueling. They cost about $500,000 apiece for the cartel to build.

For nearly more than 5 years, the Guatemalan and U.S. militaries have seen a surge of such subs and have been able to stop some of them.

In October 2009, Guatemalan special forces caught a submarine and seized the 5 tons of cocaine on board.

These soldiers are trained by U.S. Navy SEALs, but U.S. Special Forces are also training a Guatemalan special force tactical strike team. The military has donated a number of UH-2 helicopters to help with cartel raids.

Fox news was able to visit the base in the Pacific where this training takes place.

Soldiers who took part in the October operation say those they arrested lived in a confined area so small that the occupants could stand or sit but never lie down. These were common conditions, they said.

There are “no heads, and no beds,” one U.S. counter-narcotics official who has experience intercepting these subs laughed. “And the crew lives on Red Bull and spam.”

Crews dump the submersibles off the Pacific coasts of Guatemala and Mexico and transfer the cocaine bundles to waiting ships. These ships speed off to the unguarded coastlines and then take overland routes toward the U.S. border. There, one kilogram of cocaine sells for between $17,000 and $32,000.

“There is a growing reef of these semi-submersibles off the coast of Mexico,” another U.S. official said.

The official is one of many who track the drug movements and shares intelligence at a joint interagency task force center known as JIATF-S based in Key West. At JIATF-S, members of the U.S. military, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Customs and Border Patrol and the Coast Guard work with representatives of most Latin American countries.

On July 27, 2009 JIATF-S intercepted a semi-submersible 300 miles off the coast of Colombia. A year earlier, Congress passed the Drug Trafficking Interdiction Act that essentially makes it an automatic felony for anyone caught onboard these unregistered vessels. The law served as recognition that there is no other use for these homemade subs than for smuggling contraband.


In Guatemala, the U.S. embassy and the United States Agency for International Development have helped the government set up a number of 24-hour courts to help deal with the large number of cases emanating from drug cartel violence.

These courts are especially busy with the high rate of murders and kidnappings associated with drug cartel gangs.

The court in downtown Guatemala City looks like a Stop and Shop or 7-11 but in the basement of a high-rise courthouse.

The prisoners are held in a group cell in a lock up in the basement garage. They catcall to passersby. When their names are called, they are escorted to what almost looks like a drive-through window to pick up their police paperwork and charges. A few steps from there, they wait to be assigned a public defender, while the judge sits in an all-glass courtroom just steps away.

The U.S. State Department has also set up a model police precinct in one of Guatemala City’s most crowded and violent suburbs, Villa Nueva, where conviction rates are high and community outreach has led to a very successful tip hotline.

But when a Fox team visited Guatemala’s northern border at El Carmen, the main pedestrian crossing in Guatemala’s southwest, the complexity of helping the government tackle its cartel and border problem became apparent.

Guatemala has a 577-mile long border with Mexico. It has eight official crossing points and 1,200 blind crossings.

Immigration Minister Enrique Degenhart, an affable English-speaking former businessman who was educated at Boston College, traveled with our Fox team to show us the border.

We landed at a military base in a banana grove not far from where the Zetas carried out a brazen prison break earlier in the week, freeing a cartel leader who had murdered a well-known soccer star. Eleven suspects, members of the Zeta cartel, were subsequently arrested and as a result, the minister had to travel with an armed escort and a bodyguard as he showed us the border.

“We are tired of being used. We are tired of organized crime using Guatemala as a transit point for jumping into Mexico and into the U.S.,” Degenhart said.

At the El Carmen crossing, there was chaos. A constant stream of pedestrians simply rolled up their pant legs and waded through the river - a five minute walk from the Guatemalan side of the border into Mexico. Upriver, dozens of truck tire rafts waited to ferry illegal migrants and their contraband across the river - a two minute ride. Authorities are unable to stop the flow.

“Our country is being used as a pipeline or bridge for drugs going into the U.S.,” Degenhart explained.

He walked us toward the bridge that crosses the river to Mexico and pointed out row upon row of trinket sellers and shops who he said were likely front companies for those selling drugs and weapons.

“They probably don’t live off of selling tortillas and rice and beans,” Degenhart told the visiting Fox team.

Not a single policeman was visible. The authorities had recently cut down a series of zip lines that the locals use to cross the river with contraband when the river is too high. On this day, they simply walked.

While we were there, his officers received word that the Zetas had threatened to kidnap members of his team in retaliation, forcing us to cut our visit short.

The U.S. is trying to help Guatemala begin to secure its border with Mexico by investing in new border crossings where the Guatemalan authorities can start checking vehicles. The new border crossing would cost about $7 million.

U.S. officials who specialize in counter-narcotics worry that Al Qaeda will soon realize the porous nature of the Central American-U.S. corridor. They suggest that America’s border problems don’t end at border cities like El Paso and Brownsville, Texas. They say border problem begins in Colombia and must be tackled in Guatemala, where it is easier to intercept the drugs and people before they make their way too far north.



  1. "investing in new border crossings where the Guatemalan authorities can start checking vehicles. The new border crossing would cost about $7 million."

    Has anyone seen the border that Mexico shares with Guatemala??? They don't need new border crossing those idiots...what they need to do is Mexico needs to create a border patrol...cuz the border is ridiculous...If you Americans think your border is out of should check ours...a border where no one has control.

  2. I have been preaching about CA for months on BB. To me it is the greatest threat and progressing at a fast pace. Easily to destablize, abject poverty, no equipment, not funds. Zetas have been in Guatemala for 2 years. Seems each cartel has a presence in one of the CA countries. SInaloa in Costa Rica.

    In September the US took 15% of the Seal force in Afghanistan to Guatemala. Trust me the conditions are bad and no equipment. The seals found "weapons" such as machetes...almost laughable if it were not so serious.

    there is a 600 mile mx so border and only 300 mx soldiers are deployed there, do the math, everyone is worried about the north end when it is the south that is the wild west.

    we need to get equipment and training to CA and quickly, get out of Afghanistan and the war we can never win and put our efforts and funds to train and equip these people and close the south border in an effective way.

  3. How long until these US trained Guatemalan special forces defect and turn into Guatemalan guns for hire like the Zeta's?
    Sheesh... talk about history repeating itself.

  4. If they do succeed in cutting down on shipments flowing through central America that will drive the prices up and more extortions and kidnappings in mexico. These cartels managed to destroy themselves after all. They should have took Rodney king's advice. "Cant we all just get along!!!"

  5. Well, we trained the Zetas and before that the Kaibiles. Now the Zetas are spreading mayhem and recruiting Kaibiles. Pentagon's are fools. They did the same in Af-Pak before the Russians left, and they let the country down.
    Now with $2 billions a week (official cost of war in Af-Pak, does not include payments to Pakis officials and bribes to Afghan drug lords and Karzai's brother), we could do something in CA that could help develop and protect this region, couldn't we? Hey, that's MY tax money!
    But we prefer kick the can on the road until the next election. No hope here in the US of A.

    I just hope El Chapo will be able to control the plaza in CR without bloody fights, and keep the turf clean. He could even kick the Nicas' ass. I would invite him to my table then.

  6. @ december 18 @ 10:11 PM

    so it happened once and the world stops trying?
    of coruse it could happen again...but what would be gained? With the Zs there was plenty to be gained. In Guatemala it is very different than Mx. I don't see what they would gain, it is not to overtake Mx it is to preserve their country. A big difference, no way they could become a DTO with power fast enough, no funds for one.

    It may not work, I say we should have paid attention a year ago but I am for training and equipment where necessary, and not our guys deployed for combat which is what the next step would be if we did not try this.

    you are assuming that Mx is the only route to the US...very wrong. They have been finding tunnels in canada, busted LFM in Winston Salem NC this week (atlantic) and sinaloa in Wa & Ca (pacific) the DTOs have subs and high tech equipment..there will always be the north mx border with traffic but it will not be the end all by a long shot

  7. Why won't the US just leave Central America alone? US government machinations have caused untold amounts of terrorism and mayhem throughout this entire region in just the last 4 decades alone and the US is more creator of drug gangs and cartels than eliminator of them. To think otherwise is sheer naivete and historical ignorance!

    'Fox News 12/13/10 - About 150 miles north of Guatemala City, deep in the jungle, is a military base where Guatemalan Special Forces are being trained secretly by U.S. Green Berets.'

    The US has already caused tens of thousands of Guatemalans to lose their lives in the recent years through arming of the Guatemalan military. Now they claim to be Peacekeepers? Who believes any of this propaganda anymore? Nobody.


  8. Good points, but you are assuming that those distribution networks didn't come in from the Northern Mexico border. I'd have to assume that most, like 85& of active cartel members in CA and Washington state came from border crossings like Tijuana and Mexicali, not the ports on the pacific coast.

    This doesn't refute any of your points, just a note.

  9. There has only been one tunnel found between the US and Canada. It was discovered in 2005 during construction and put under surveillance before it was completed. It was never used to smuggle drugs, weapons or persons. Stop with the scare tactics.

  10. Operation Condor all over again,

  11. @ 10:11 pm

    Those special trained forces/Kaibiles/ have already turned into paid Zeta killers..Accordig to reports a group of them have been paid to train the new Zeta generation.

  12. so ernie you are saying this is all a cover story for why the USA needs to invade central America?

    maybe..but why?...we have been in Central America for ever already...

    to spread NAFTA?..maybe , but do we really need the labor force, or the market

    to sell weapons...seems small potatos for that business...

    do you think the USA is ever going to let anything go on there and not get involved?

    these are small nations and they will always be influenced by other more powerful nations

    and because these are sovereign nations and can ally with who ever they want the USA will always seek to keep any other country from gaining a toe hold

    if some country is gonna be in there ..who is better ..the Chinese?...

    just like we don't need to be in the ex soviet state of Georgia

    and don't need to be involved in Taiwan..

    .the Russians and Chinese don't need to be in central America

    foreign military adventurism was never the sole property of the USA, and as well as i know my governments deficiencys , i am equally convinced that other countrys are ran by the same kind of un principled puppets as i suspect in my own government

    so why should i trust them any more than i do my own sneaky politicians

    whos human rights record do you want to compare to?..

    all the players are in debt to their respective central banks... and are scrambling for the money all the time.

    .one is pitted against the other..

    .we are in the same fix...either we fight like dogs for what is on the ground...or we let other dogs take it away and we starve..and untill one day ALL THE DOGS ..stop fighting it will never change

    too bad that if we give up influence , some other crew will fill the vacumn, and maybe not be as nice as us..

    do you really think that if the USA disarms, or withdraws from the world that world peace will settle over the earth...

    would that it were so ...

  13. i hope these green beret trained guys get paid well...'cause if they don't ...for sure they are gonna defect to the cartels..this is potentially another big mess ...

    if we want to stop shit coming into our country, wouldn't it make more sense to do from our side of the border...

    let the cartels kill each other over something that they will never get to market..that wont last long

    we can best affect the drug war from home...

  14. Zetas have been in Guatemala for 2 years...they are established. this is NOT another case of paramilitary group "turning" to do so they have to defeat the Z presence...with no funding or government resources, last time I checked there is no money.

    then there is this: what would be the motive? take over DTO business? angain NO MONEY. you nay sayers are too late to formulate a sound conclusion, to new to the CA game. Look at my old posts...I pound on CA being the biggest threat, over and over again.

    There is no choice. Yes new routes will develope thru pacific/atlantic/gulf/canada/ and every indian reservation that sits on a border and coast line/waterway/ look at the reservations in az, comprising 1/3 the state, living in autonomy. birdering 4 other states. and Wa-canada. for you that think sealing the mx/us border will do the trick, you are woefully ignorant.

    there are so many facets and intricities that are never spoken abut because most people listen to talking heads and spins...and concentrating on undocumneted workers and the mx/us border, this is stupid ineffective and will have graave consequences.

    already acording to the US gov 4-6 % of DTO business goes thru indian land, free as a bird passing thru the desert.

  15. Brito, Central America is a prime example of what happens when nation states are chopped out too tiny to be very economically viable on their own. In a sense the nation states of Central America are kind of a Balkanized area of the Americas. They must have economic alliance together to really be able to thrive, but unfortunately there is hundred ton gorilla sitting on them all and forcing them into dependence on the outside rather than real independence for themselves.

    It is not a good thing that our country runs rough shod over these tiny countries, something that neither Russia nor China want to do, or even could do, but the US has done and continues to do so without any regard to the conditions they have created for Central America..

    'do you really think that if the USA disarms, or withdraws from the world that world peace will settle over the earth...'

    This is really the 'If we don't make ourselves the world's bully, then just some other country would come along and be the bully to us argument'. This argument has been used to pave over and try to justify more injustice in the world than any other.

    Don't think either that the Nazis didn't use it to convince Germans to go along with their radically aggressive policies, because they did. And look at the suffering caused because people bought that. Sadly Americans have fully bought in to thinking this way, too. It will not go good for the world because of this.


    Brito, Have a Merry Christmas! I gotta get my ass in gear and drive from
    Colorado to South Texas now, so it will be several weeks probably 'till I begin to post once again.

    Yes, I'm headed to South Texas and not to Berkeley! I guess I'll get my cowboy hat on and leave the Birkenstocks in the closet for now. Best wishes to you, Brito. Have a good Holiday Season, Friend.


  16. all right ernest ...same to safe and thanks for the well wishes...

    whatta we gonna do without ya !!!

    safe travels...

  17. NOTEWORTHY: Carlos Castresana UN Chief/CICIE Guatemala warns; if Guatemala is inable to control the MX cartels , in 2 years the cartel (Zs) will run Guatemala City.

    also this:

  18. Smurf...

    The 2010 Mexico report from Stratfor came out last week but highly abridged, tomorrow a comprehensive report is being released, should be good.


    being overran by Mx DTO..

    I know...Buela has lost it on Guatemala..perhaps, but I am seizing the moment. it is so important & te media has ignored this element of the DTO "WAR"

  20. no body knows what is like to live here, were the bullets past you head any given day, were you can se a zetas everywere with bullet proof bests and granades hanging their weists and you have to keep you mouth shut if you want to live and today the guatemalan army took over alta verapaz deparment were the zetas have the most presence we hope this actions can help the ordinary guatemalan citizens, any help to fight the narco is wellcome

  21. We need the Mexican rich or upper class and the Mexican government to start hiring mercenaries from America Security companies like Black water. There are companies out there that can afflict a lot of damage and they pay well. And the guy that said something about the green berets getting paid off that does not happen. Green Berates will turn in anyone in there unit they think would be doing something like that in a heartbeat.

  22. The narcos DO NOT TORTURE, the do "enhanced interrogation techniques". Big difference.

    As to the drugs, as long as people in the US are willing to pay huge sums of money for them the war on drugs is not only lost but a huge waste of money.

  23. the problems are not the borders. it is an economic problem.

    As long as the US pays so much money (13-25 billion$) to import those goods, they will be delivered. independently if someone in guatemala has a border crossing for 7 millions or not.

    The only way to get this under control is to legalize it and bind regulations to trade and consumption. Legalization makes it transparent and thus controllable in a more peaceful way. It also will lower the prices.

  24. Active military bases in ga is an amazing site where Georgia military information are given. I have found interesting is the Fort Gillem is part of the wide category of small and satellite bases. It is run by the US Army and located in Forest Park. Its “mother” base is Fort McPherson.


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