Tuesday, January 17, 2012



15 January 2012 Last updated at 18:37 ET
Guatemala president orders army to join drugs fight
President Otto Perez Molina (c) during the ceremony appointing him as
commander of the Army President Perez Molina (c) said he would
provide the military with new equipment to fight drug cartels

One day after his inauguration, Guatemalan President Otto Perez
Molina has ordered the army to join the fight against drug cartels.

Mr Perez Molina, who is a retired general, called on the military to
"neutralise organised crime".

Officials say the police in some areas of Guatemala have been
infiltrated by drug gangs.

Guatemala is following the example of Mexico and Honduras, where the
military is also tackling the drug gangs.

President Perez Molina, who is the first military figure to lead
Guatemala since the return to democracy in 1986, has promised tough
action against violent crime and drug trafficking.

During his campaign for the presidency, he promised voters to restore
security with an "iron fist".

Police corruption

In December, outgoing President Alvaro Colom gave the army special
powers to reclaim control of the northern province of Alta Verapaz.

Officials said Alta Verapaz was being run by Mexican drug traffickers
belonging to the violent Zetas cartel.

A government spokesman said the police force in the province had been
"totally infiltrated by the Zetas", guaranteeing "total impunity" for

The measure has allowed troops to hold suspects and conduct searches
without warrants in Alta Verapaz.

Under the new orders issued by President Perez Molina on Sunday, the
army will join in the fight against organised crime across the country.

In a speech to the armed forces, the president told the military "to
co-ordinate and co-operate with the other security forces to
neutralize organised crime through ground, air and maritime control."

He said he would provide the military with planes, speedboats and
ground vehicles to help battle organised crime.

Transit country

Guatemala is a major transit point for cocaine smuggled from Colombia
through Guatemala to Mexico and on to the US.

Guatemalan law enforcement officials say the Zetas cartel has
increasingly moved its operations to Guatemala since Mexican
President Felipe Calderon stepped up his country's fight against the
drugs trade.

Guatemala is following in the footsteps of its neighbours by giving
its military wider powers.

The Honduran Congress voted in November to allow troops to take on
police duties to confront its murder rate, the highest in the world.

And in Mexico, the military has been part of the war on drugs for
more than five years, ever since it was deployed by President Felipe
Calderon in December 2006.

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