This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guatemala: An Important Source of Weapons

This Southern Pulse Intel Brief, dated 5 September 2009, is republished here with permission from the Southern Pulse editors.


The Mexican navy announced at the end of August 2009 that it had installed six new naval stations in Chiapas near the Suchiate and Usumacinta rivers that form part of Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. These two rivers have traditionally been where many illegal crossings into Mexico occur, so this focus on the Mexican-Guatemala border is reassuring, but for Mexico. As for Guatemala, we've received a significant amount of information that points toward Guatemala's increasing role as a secondary source of weapons for Mexican criminals, especially Los Zetas.

On 21 August 2009, authorities seized a cache of weapons and vehicles near the Mexico-Guatemala border in Huehuetenango, allegedly owned by members of Los Zetas. There was enough equipment and firepower to mount a swift attack patrol.

Just a week before that event, a small aircraft landed near Escuintla, located near Guatemala's Pacific coast, with 636 kilos of cocaine. Police who discovered the plane also found five assault rifles, a grenade launcher, and six containers of fuel (during the last week of July, Guatemalan authorities discovered a cache of 750 kilos of cocaine, reportedly valued at US$9.2 million, in the same area near Escuintla).

Perhaps the most significant weapons seizure so far in 2009 happened in April in the small village of Amatitlan, just south of Guatemala City and not too far from Escuintla. After a firefight with alleged members of Los Zetas, five federal agents had been killed, but those who remained standing seized 350 kilos of cocaine, 11 grenade launchers, nearly 600 fragmentation grenades, 11 M-16 rifles, over 5,000 rounds of ammunition, and 11 M-60 machine guns.

Another 500 fragmentation grenades and five AK-47 rifles were found during a routine sweep of "hot-spots" in Guatemala's Peten department in March 2009.

Sources in Guatemala have noted that fragmentation grenades can be sold for as much as US$38 a unit, while AK-47 rifles sell for around US$315 a unit if used or US$1,255 new.

When we consider that some 1,100 fragmentation grenades, 11 M-60 machine guns, around a dozen grenade-launchers, and at least 20 assault rifles have been seized in Guatemala between March and August of this year, the conclusion is disturbing. The black market for guns, and especially grenades, in Guatemala is hot. The Zetas, however, have added stealing weapons as a procurement option.

Between July 2007 and January 2008, members of Los Zetas stole an estimated 500 weapons from the Mariscal Zavala military base - a random assortment of pistols, rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, and grenades are missing.

Finally, on 20 August 2009, alleged members of the Zetas stole a shipment of weapons en route from Guatemala to Mexico. Grenade launchers, rocket launchers, grenades, assault rifles, and magazines were included in the heist.

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