GUATEMALA CITY – A criminal court handed down prison sentences ranging from eight to 83 years to 17 Guatemalans who belonged to Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel and were arrested in July 2011 at a party in northern Guatemala, judicial officials said.
The Zetas members were convicted on criminal conspiracy, firearms, conspiracy to commit murder and money laundering charges.
“Prosecutors introduced enough evidence that the court was able to hand down convictions against these people,” a court spokesman said.
Oscar Tiul and Sebastian Choc Cac, the bosses of the cell that was dismantled, each got 83-year prison terms.
Sadia Guillen Ruiz, Andrea Celeste Morales and Berta Elena Portillo, who claimed to be dancers hired to perform at the party, got eight-year prison terms.
The rest of the individuals convicted in the case received a variety of terms, the court spokesman said.
A group of Zetas cartel members were holding a party on July 12, 2011, at the Santa Marta ranch, near the Mexican border, when the security forces raided the property.
Eleven of the individuals convicted on Monday were arrested at the ranch and the other six were detained across Guatemala in the investigation that followed the raid.
Firearms, thoroughbred horses and exotic animals were seized at the ranch.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as “El Lazca,” deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, considered Mexico’s most violent criminal organization, went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
Los Zetas entered Guatemala several years ago, officials say.
The cartel has been blamed for several massacres in recent years.
Zetas gunmen set fire to the Casino Royale in Monterrey, the capital of Mexico’s Nuevo Leon state, on Aug. 25, 2011, killing 52 gamblers and employees trapped inside, most of whom died of smoke inhalation.
Los Zetas has also been blamed for the massacre of 27 peasants in May 2011 at a ranch in Guatemala’s Peten province, which borders Mexico and Belize.
The cartel was accused of being behind the Aug. 23, 2010, massacre of 72 migrants, the majority of them from Latin America, at a ranch outside San Fernando, a city in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
Los Zetas, which began moving into Guatemala in mid-2007, has been battling local gangs for control of the illegal drug trade.
The Mexican cartel, according to Guatemalan officials, is the most dangerous criminal organization operating in the Central American country. EFE