Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom says authorities have caught the suspected local leader of a group of drug gang hitmen accused of killing and beheading nearly 30 field workers on a ranch near Mexico’s border.
Colom told reporters Tuesday that the person in custody appears to have been responsible for directing the group that killed the workers. Authorities have identified the suspect as Elder Estuardo Morales Pineda.
The massacre took place in Guatemala’s Peten province earlier this month. Officials have blamed Mexico’s Zetas drug gang for the incident, which has been described as one of Guatemala’s worst mass killings in a generation. Police have said most of the victims were beheaded.
In response to the massacre, Colom last week declared a state of siege in the Peten region. The move, which suspends constitutional guarantees, was put into effect to give authorities time to track down the killers.
Authorities have said that of the various Mexican drug gangs operating in Guatemala, the Zetas seem to have made the most inroads. In Mexico, the Zetas have been hit hard by the military and federal police since President Felipe Calderón took office in late 2006 and began a crackdown on organized crime groups.
In another development, Guatemalan authorities say officials have found the chopped up body of a local prosecutor — a killing also blamed on the Zetas.
Last year, a U.S. State Department report said entire regions of Guatemala are now essentially under the control of the Zetas.