Guatemala police arrest suspect in slayings of 27 farmworkers

Guatemalan authorities have arrested a man they say is a top leader of the drug gang blamed for last weekend’s massacre of 27 farmworkers, President Alvaro Colom said Wednesday.

The suspect, Hugo Alvaro Gomez Vasquez, is believed to have taken part in the killings in a northern province known as Peten, Colom said in his daily broadcast from Guatemala City.

Colom called Gomez “one of the principal leaders” of the Zetas gang in Guatemala, which has served increasingly as a base for Mexican traffickers skirting a crackdown at home.

The Zetas, many of whom are former Mexican military officers, started in Mexico years ago as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel. But they have branched into other crimes, such as extortion and migrant-smuggling, and are notorious for bloodthirsty tactics.


Gomez, a Guatemalan national, was captured Tuesday after authorities found a suspected Zeta encampment a day earlier at a ranch not far from where the workers were found beheaded.

Colom said information at the encampment led investigators to Gomez in a neighboring province, Alta Verapaz. Also seized were two dozen rifles, military-style uniforms, protective vests, two Hummers, 6.6 pounds of cocaine and $23,000 in Guatemalan currency.

The president on Tuesday had declared a state of siege in Peten, a vast rural zone that abuts Mexico and is a relay point for cocaine bound for the United States.

Authorities believe Zeta gang members last weekend were hunting for the owner of the ranch, Otto Salguero, who appeared to be the target of an extortion bid seeking money or drugs. Authorities said they had not determined whether Salguero was involved in drug trafficking. His whereabouts were unknown Wednesday.

Guatemala’s interior minister, Carlos Menocal, said the massacre had ties to three other kidnapping-slayings.

A 23-year-old man who said he survived the massacre told reporters he faked death after being stabbed in the stomach. He said the killings lasted for eight hours, ending early Sunday.