Newly inaugurated Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina ordered the army to join the fight against organized crime and drug cartels last week. In an email interview, Bruce Bagley, chair of the department of international studies at the University of Miami, discussed Guatemala’s place in the war on drugs.
WPR: What is the nature of Guatemala's drug crisis, and what has recent policy been to confront it?
Bruce Bagley: Guatemala has become a major transit country for cocaine moving north along the Pacific Corridor from Colombia to Mexico and into the United States. Mexican President Felipe Calderon's militarization of Mexico's anti-drug fight since his inauguration in December 2006 as well as stepped-up U.S. cooperation with Mexico under the Merida Initiative since 2008 have increased pressure against the Zetas along Mexico's east coast and against the Sinaloa cartel along Mexico's west coast, driving both cartels to seek safer havens for their trafficking operations in Guatemala (as well as Honduras). Neither Sinaloa nor the Zetas have abandoned their Mexican-based operations, but both have sought territorial diversification into Guatemala to operate more freely in the highly corrupt and weakly institutionalized setting it offers. Under former President Alvaro Colom, Guatemala's fragile political system and weak security institutions were effectively incapable of developing or implementing a workable anti-drug and anti-crime strategy.