GUATEMALA CITY – Eight men – four Mexicans and four Guatemalans – suspected of belonging to the violent drug cartel Los Zetas, will stand trial for the May 14, 2011 murder of 27 farmworkers in the department of Petén, 600 kilometers north of the capital near the Mexican border, a Guatemalan judge said on Tuesday.
Judge Carol Flores said the eight defendants will stand trial on charges of kidnapping and murder. A trial date will be announced at an upcoming hearing.
Flores ordered the trial to move forward after hearing testimony from two protected witnesses who linked the eight defendants to the brutal crime. The judge also admitted fingerprint evidence from the crime scene and information gathered via phone taps.
Flores said evidence in the case indicated that the defendants allegedly planned and carried out the massacre of poor farmworkers at Los Cocos farm, in the La Libertad municipality in Petén. Victims – both men and women – were decapitated during the brutal crime.
Prosecutor Aldo Chapas said the massacre was ordered by Guatemalan drug trafficker Mauricio Cruz Cárdenas, alias “Z200,” whose target was the farm’s owner, Otto Salguero, one of Cruz’s rivals.
The eight defendants already have been convicted of killing an adjunct prosecutor from the department of Cobán who was investigating the massacre. A judge sentenced each of the eight men to 158 years in prison, although Guatemala’s maximum sentencing guidelines reduced prison terms to 50 years.
Los Zetas – a brutal Mexican drug cartel – have been operating in Guatemala since at least 2008, when members of the group were involved in a deadly gun battle between rival drug cartels that left 11 dead in the eastern region of the country.
Interior Minister Mauricio López admitted that members of Los Zetas control strategic drug-trafficking regions in heavily forested areas along the 1,000 kilometers that border Mexico.