GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan authorities expressed concern about the power of organized drug gangs Friday after eight police officers were shot dead inside a police station.
On Thursday night, gunmen shot eight officers dead and kidnapped the chief of police in Salcaja, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Guatemala City.
According to National Police Chief Gerson Olivia, investigators believe the officers were disarmed and could have been positioned face down on the ground before being riddled with bullets.
“This event is lamentable, and I think it is a direct affront to the state as an institution,” said Adolfo Alarcón, a security analyst at the Center for National and Economic Inquiry.
He said the killing was a message from traffickers “to the state and society that they do not fear them, that they will use all means necessary to cause chaos and reduce the population to a state of terror and defenselessness.”
In a statement, President Otto Pérez Molina attributed the attack to drug gangs operating in the area with possible links to Mexican cartels such as the Sinaloa or Los Zetas organizations.
According to Pérez Molina, 12 to 13 people traveling in three vehicles were involved in the operation.
The president said he had not ruled out the option of declaring a state of emergency in the Salcaja area.
Jorge Santos of the International Center for Human Rights Research, set up to secure political rights after Guatemala’s civil war, said he hoped “this terror will not lead to greater levels of social control by the executive.”
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the killing “emphatically” and urged authorities to quickly shed light on the events.
Guatemala is experiencing a wave of violence that claims 16 victims a day, one of the highest rates in Latin America.
Authorities estimate that around 50 percent of violent deaths in Guatemala are linked to the drug trade and gang violence.