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Earlier this year, in May, dozens of gunmen entered a farm in Guatemala’s Petén region, murdering and decapitating 27 people.  Guatemalan authorities blamed the Zetas, a violent Mexican drug trafficking cartel increasingly active in Guatemala and other parts of Central America.

The massacre underscores the vulnerability of the civilian population in unsecured border areas between Mexico and Guatemala, where narcotics and human trafficking flourish. Drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime pose a growing threat to governance and to human security in Guatemala as well as other parts of Central America.  The region has become a strategically important area for the international drug trade because of its geographical proximity to North American drug markets, the existing criminal networks with experience moving contraband and laundering money, and the abundance of weapons from the region’s many armed conflicts.  In addition, successful efforts to disrupt Colombian trafficking routes through the Caribbean and Miami, along with the demise of the Cali and Medellín cartels in the 1980s, pushed the trafficking routes elsewhere.  Organized crime takes advantage of the region’s weak and fragile institutions and exacerbates the already staggering levels of homicides that have converted the so-called Northern Triangle into the most violent region of the world outside of formal war.

On November 3, 2011 the Latin American Program joined with the Center for Naval Analysis(CNA) for a discussion of CNA's forthcoming report on the impact of drug trafficking on three border communities in the Guatemalan departments of the Peten, Zacapa, and San Marcos.  The report, and consequently this event, examines not only the institutional weaknesses that have allowed drug trafficking to flourish, but also the impact on the civilian population living in border communties

For a copy of the report please refer to "Event Documents" below.


  • Ralph Espach

    Senior Research Scientist; Director, Latin American Affairs Program, CNA
  • Christopher Ashe

    Action Officer, Central American Regional Security Initiative, U.S. Department of State
  • Julie López

    Independent researcher, Wilson Center collaborator, and expert on Central American criminal networks
  • Werner Ovalle

    Central American Border Security Program (SEFRO), System for Central American Integration (SICA)