Belize’s Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar “Gapi” Vega met Thursday in Antigua, Guatemala, meeting with Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom and other Central American leaders as they discussed the implications of the worsening drug wars in the region, in the wake of Sunday’s outrageous Zetas massacre of 27 persons in the state of Peten, which adjoins Belize’s porous western border, as well as strategies for combating the rising tide of violence perpetrated by drug gangs.
Colom has declared a 30-day state of emergency in Peten, according to official Guatemala government information. The situation is tense—and too close to Belize for comfort.
Amandala has been provided with a photo showing that the name of the paramilitary gang, Zetas—which was formed in Mexico by defected Special Forces officers, and whose name, the 6th letter of the Greek alphabet, was actually derived from its first leader, Lieutenant Arturo Guzmán Decena, whose Federal Judicial Police radio code was “Z1”—has been carved on a tree inside the Caracol Archaeological Reserve in Cayo, Belize, close to the Belize-Guatemala border.
Sunday’s mass killings are of particular interest to Belize, since it has been widely reported by sources out of Guatemala that a vehicle bearing a Belizean license plate was found at the camp that had been used by members of Los Zetas cartel which executed laborers of Otto Salguero, a ranch owner in the La Libertad area of Peten, to whom the massacre, including 26 decapitations, and bold writings in human blood, was supposed to send a strong message.
The Belizean four-wheel-drive diplomatic vehicle found at the Zetas camp in the area of La Libertad was reportedly stolen from the Guatemalan driver of the adjacency zone office of the Organization of American States (OAS), posted at the Belize-Guatemala border.
Kim Osborne, OAS representative in Belize, told Amandala when we contacted her today that she is not able to comment at this time, but she indicated that the vehicle is not yet back in OAS possession. She told us that any comment to the media would have to come from Raul Lago, OAS Special Advisor in Washington.
Incidentally, the leaders of Central America who attended today’s meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, have agreed to solicit anti-narcotics help from the OAS. (Only Costa Rica and Panama were not represented at the meeting in Guatemala today, according to foreign news sources.)
Speaking with Amandala from Antigua Thursday night, Belize Minister of Police and Public Safety Doug Singh said Belize security forces have been upping their vigilance, looking out for suspicious movements that may be linked to Los Zetas, but Colom has indicated that there is “no tangible evidence” that the Zetas came over to Belize, and they believe they have all fled north, towards Mexico.
Singh said that before the main meeting with the Central American leaders, Belize had a bilateral meeting with Colom, in which they expressed sympathies with Guatemala, and underscored the fact that Belize is vulnerable, and that both parties will need to act cooperatively and share information.
Singh also said that Guatemala has set up security checkpoints on the corridor to Belize, and that Belize will step up efforts at the border, as well as through Customs and Immigration checkpoints in “more vulnerable areas.”
Minister Singh said that one of the primary reasons for today’s meeting in Guatemala is to prepare for a regional security summit on June 22 and 23, which, he said, will deal with efforts to raise the funds necessary for a regional security strategy.
“It is absolutely important that everybody gets on the same page,” said Singh.
Guatemalan vice minister Carlos Raúl Morales has been quoted as saying that what happened in Guatemala on Sunday is not Guatemala’s problem alone—it is a problem for the countries of the region, which are small countries, and which, as a result, have to coordinate actions and strategies.
Concerns have been raised that drug gangs may target Belizean forests as safe havens they can use in any crackdown across the border. Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development, Rafael Manzanero, told Amandala today that whereas they have not yet found any evidence of Zetas hiding out in the Chiquibul, a forested area of Belize with unique cave systems, they have previously found carvings of faces and markings of gang numbers on trees in the forest, as well as threatening notes, which, he said, are intended for intimidation.
Learned observers have expressed concerns to our newspaper multiple times this week that there is not enough concentration by Belize security forces on the western border, as increased manpower has been sent to Belize City to help support the fight against crime.
Commander of the Belize Defence Force, Dario Tapia, told Amandala this week that they have not reduced patrols on the border, but have brought in soldiers to the city who would ordinarily be on routine training.
Amandala was made to understand from reliable sources that some of this training would take place in the western jungles, which could help to deter illegal activities out west.
As we have highlighted in our midweek paper, law enforcement authorities in Belize continue to be challenged in efforts to stave off illegal milpa incursions, as well as illegal logging, lootings and poaching, allegedly by Guatemalans.