Guatemala’s government has declared a “state of siege” in the Peten region near Mexico’s border in response to the recent massacre of nearly 30 field workers on a ranch in the area.
President Alvaro Colom has said the state of siege — which suspends constitutional guarantees — was put into effect to give authorities time to track down the killers.
The government has blamed Mexico’s Zetas drug gang for the massacre, which has been described as one of Guatemala’s worst mass killings in a generation. Police have said most of the victims were beheaded.
Mexican drug cartels face an escalating crackdown at home and are expanding their operations in neighboring countries.
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.
Last year, a U.S. State Department report said entire regions of Guatemala are now essentially under the control of the Zetas.
The Zetas began as a Mexican military unit that defected and began working with the Gulf cartel, based in Ciudad Juárez, México, just across the border from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. The Zetas split from the Gulf cartel last year. The two groups are now fierce rivals.