Guatemalan authorities announced May 15 the discovery of 27 bodies—all but one decapitated—at a ranch known as Los Cocos in La Libertad municipality of the northern jungle department of Petén. The Public Ministry and National Civil Police (PNC) said the victims were farmworkers who were massacred by a narco-trafficking cell known as “Z-200,” believed to be an arm of the Mexico-based criminal paramilitary network Los Zetas. The PNC was alerted to the ranch by local campesinos, and found the bodies spread out on the patio. Only six have thus far been identified.
The PNC identified the remains as: “One complete body, 26 headless bodies, and 23 heads.” The dead are said to consist of 25 men and two women. Some of the corpses still had their hands tied behind their backs. Two walls of the ranch were defaced with threats written in the blood of the victims, directed at Otto Salguero, who authorities initially named as the owner of the ranch. Later accounts said the ranch was owned by Haroldo Waldemar León Lara, brother of Juan José León AKA “Juancho,” a Guatemalan trafficker who was assassinated in the city of Zacapa in 2008, presumably by Zetas. Haroldo León was reportedly killed elsewhere in Petén just before the massacre at the ranch.
Preliminary investigations indicate the ranch was invaded in the pre-dawn hours by some 50 men in military uniforms, who arrived in 12 vehicles, mostly farm trucks. They demanded to know where the owner of the ranch was—and, not receiving an answer, began to kill the farmworkers one by one. While the bulk of the bodies were left on the patio, where the killing apparently took place, parts of the remains were strewn around the property, with one head thrown down a well.
The squad of assassins was reportedly led by a man they called they called “Kaibil” (suggesting he may be a veteran of the Kaibiles, the Guatemalan army’s elite counter-insurgency force). Police gathered the account from one worker who was left alive and ordered by the assassins to look after the various children that lived on the property.
At least three members of the Salguero family had been kidnapped by presumed Zetas in recent months. One was released on ransom, the other two killed—their mutilated bodies found on the Libertad-Sayaxché road through Petén just days before the massacre. A note found with the bodies read: “Otto Salguero voy por tu cabeza, Z-200” (“Otto Salguero, I’m coming for your head, Z-200”).
The Guatemalan army announced after the massacre that it has mobilized its 1st Infantry Brigade to hunt down the killers and attack the Zeta network in Petén. (Prensa Libre, Prensa Libre, Guatemala, May 16; Miami Herald, May 15 )
See our last post on Guatemala.