police have arrested at least 22 "traffickers" and confiscated five small planes, 239 assault weapons, 28 vehicles and explosives in a series of raids...I don't think that there is much evidence (yet?) of the siege having produced lasting calming effects and I don't think that we should expect any. I hope that I am wrong, but given the strength of narcotraffickers in the region and the weakness of Guatemala's police, military, and political and judicial institutions, I am not optimistic.
Aside from my concerns that the operation in Alta Verapaz will be totally ineffective, Chris Arsenault writing for Al Jazeera reports on how some locals are skeptical that the operation was even launched to take on the Zetas.
No one disputes the power, corrupting influence or horrific violence projected by the cartels. "You could see them walking in the mall [in Coban] before the siege," says Cesar Bol, a leading activist with the National Indigenous and Campiseno Coordination Organisation (CONIC).On Monday, Interior Minister Carlos Menocal announced that in addition to the cash, suspects, and planes seized in the lat two weeks, the government has been able to disrupt the Zetas "base, their hiding place, their operations center in Alta Verapaz." Menocal's quote would provide one reason why authorities conducted the siege in Alta Verapaz rather than the capital or other departments.
"They openly carried pistols on their belts, wore brand new clothes, drove brand new trucks and spoke with Mexican accents."
But in farming villages, church halls and independent research offices, there is deep scepticism about the government's actions.
"The state of siege is a strategy of the government to attack social movements," says Carlos Morales, who works for farmers' rights with the Union of Campiseno Organisations of Verapaz.
At least two activists, Chabil Utzaj and Pablo Sacrab, have been arrested in Alta Verapaz under the pre-text of the siege, another farmers' rights groups says.
Sitting beside bags of fertiliser and posters of the revolutionary Che Guevara in a warehouse-turned-office, Morales says the Zetas don't live in his municipality of Santa Cruz, a 15-minute drive from Coban.
He thinks the siege is staged and simply an excuse for repression, rather than a legitimate attempt to battle traffickers.
"There are agrarian conflicts in much of Alta Verapaz," he says. "The government is trying to silence groups organising for land reform and against mega-projects like hydro-electric dams and palm oil plantations."
While many urban Guatemalans do not share Morales's analysis, there is scepticism about why a state of emergency would be declared in Alta Verapaz, as it is not the country's most violent area.
The Guatemalan Solidarity Project has more information on one of the indigenous leaders, Pablo Sacrab Pop, arrested during the siege.
Given Guatemala's history, people should be skeptical about the government's motivations and its capacity to carry out such a siege. While I have no reason to doubt that the the central government's primary target is the Zetas, the siege also provides a perfect opportunity for some to use the siege to further their own economic interests by leading the police and military to target local labor, human rights, and indigenous community leaders.