Drug traffickers in Guatemala have received prison sentences of up to 828 years for murdering 16 foreigners on a bus in 2008.
Six drug traffickers got on a bus in the department of Zacapa in northeast Guatemala in 2008, believing the vehicle was transporting drugs. However, after finding no narcotics on board, the men proceeded to shoot and kill all 16 people on the bus.
Travelling from Nicaragua, the bus had been carrying 15 Nicaraguans and a Dutch national.
The bodies of the victims were burned on farmland belonging to drug trafficker Marvin Montiel Marìn, dubbed “El Taquero”. EFE reported that El Taquero ordered the killings and was handed an 820 year sentence for his role in the murders. He received eight years for criminal association, 12 for drug trafficking and 50 years for each murder.
A major drug trafficking route
AFP stated that according to the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), three of the other five suspects received up to 828 years because additional crimes were included.
The bus had been travelling along a known route and regularly ferried Nicaraguans between the two countries according to a 2008 USA Today report. Vendors would buy wares in Guatemala, and then take their goods home to sell locally in Nicaragua.
When found, the victims were still in their seats, and USA Today reported that they were burned so severely that police were initially unable to determine their gender.
Guatemala is a major route for drug traffickers. Narcotics, especially cocaine, flow through the country from South America, on their way to Mexico and the United States.
With one of the highest crime rates in Central America, the country is rife with street gangs, organized crime and narco-trafficking groups.
According to InSight Crime, the country has some of the most “sophisticated and dangerous” organized crime groups in Central America. Working with drug-rings in Colombia, Mexico and other Central American countries – such as Honduras and El Salvador – Guatemalan crime syndicates’ main activity is trafficking drugs northward through Guatemala.
Some are also involved in other activities such as money laundering, adoption rings and opium and marijuana production.
Drug crime has had a major impact on Guatemalan life.
A 2012 Reuters’ report revealed how the flow of narcotics was fueling an increase in drug addiction.
Guatemalan Hugo Monton, 46, who has used crack cocaine since his early twenties, told Reuters that drugs are everywhere in country. “In Guatemala it’s a question of ‘where can’t you get drugs?’ because it’s so easy. You could get some three blocks from here,” he said.
Reuters reported that there are no official statistics on drug usage in Guatemala, however, a local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous told the news agency that “it has seen a big jump in people attending its meetings”.
The Transnational Institute (TNI) – an international research and advocacy organization, which has initiated the TNI Drug Law Reform Project – says on its website that Guatemalan government officials suggest the increase in drug use is because cartels are increasingly paying people in drugs, rather than cash.
Rising drug addiction is not the only impact of drug cartels and narcotics trafficking. In July 2015, the CICIG announced that drug money is helping to fund political parties in Guatemalan.