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INSECURITY REF: GUATEMALA 00924 Classified By: Lance Hegerle for reasons 1.4(b,d) ¶1. (SBU) Summary: On November 8, 16 persons traveling by charter bus from Chinandega, Nicaragua to the Guatemalan Capital were found dead in the rural department of Zacapa. The 15 Nicaraguan nationals and one Dutch national were shot before the bus they were traveling in was set on fire. Local officials are currently exploring several hypotheses, but early indications point to the incident being related to narcotics smuggling. The high profile incident will put the newly appointed Chief of Police, Attorney GeQal and Minister of Government to the test and increase calls for action to improve security. End Summary. ¶2. (C) On November 8, the bodies of 15 Nicaraguans and one Dutch citizen were found in the charred remains of their charter bus that was en route from Nicaragua to Guatemala City. Initial reports indicate that all the passengers had been shot prior to the bus being set on fire, but the
preliminary identifications are based upon a passenger manifest pending ongoing efforts to positively identify the remains using DNA. Among the dead was a Dutch citizen bound for Belize, several Nicaraguans who were returning to jobs in Guatemala following a holiday, and Nicaraguan merchants who regularly made the journey from Nicaragua to Guatemala to purchase goods for resale in their home country. Also killed was the bus driver, whose brother is reportedly serving time in El Salvador for narcotics traffickingrelated offenses. Jairo Estrada, a senior member of the Civilian Directorate of Intelligence (DIGICI), informed PolMil officer that the driver, his assistant, and two passengers had ties to El Salvador-based narcotics traffickers. He also indicated that Guatemalan Immigration had no record of those four men having entered Guatemala on the day in question. ¶3. (C) The bus was heading to Guatemala City, but was discovered on a rural road in the department of Zacapa over 150 miles off its planned route, and only a short distance from a property owned by one Guatemala's most notorious crime families. (For background on narcotics penetration in the Zacapa region see reftel.) Initial reports indicate that the bus contained hidden compartments, which has led to widespread speculation that the killings were narcotics related. Estrada stated that it was too soon to know for certain, but initial evidence pointed to a narcotics organization linked to Jorge Mario Paredes "El Gordo", currently incarcerated in the United States on trafficking charges, as being responsible for the attack. He stated that Minor Paredes, the nephew of "El Gordo," and another
family member were the most likely masterminds of the attack, and asked for U.S. assistance in determining if Jorge Paredes had communicated with family members on the day of the incident. Estrada expressed concern that a local paper had reported sensitive information on the case, indicating that they had a highly placed source within the unit investigating the incident. He clarified that although the press was reporting that the bus was transporting 20 kilos of cocaine, his unconfirmed information was that the bus was transporting closer to 300 kilos of cocaine. He added that in addition to being shot, 11 of the victims where beheaded prior to being set on fire. Estrada expressed shock at the brutality of the crime, and stated that he thought that in addition to robbery, the killings could have been intended as a message to El Salvador-based traffickers. ¶4. (C) Sources within military intelligence confirmed that the incident was related to narcotics smuggling, but did not believe that the Paredes crime family was behind the killings. These sources stated that the amount of cocaine involved was closer to 500 kilos, and that the murders were committed because the load was not actually on the bus as planned. These sources also suspect that members of the National Police were involved, but think that the intellectual leadership behind the attack could be located in El Salvador. (Comment: Military intelligence is working the case along with members of DIGICI, the police, and the Attorney General's office, and the different interpretations of events by the various agencies can probably be attributed to how each agency interprets the limited information so far
available. The rapid response of GOG security agencies and their obvious willingness to work together from the start is a positive sign of improved interagency cooperation. End Comment.) Estrada stated that in his view both the Police and Attorney General's office had responded quickly and efficiently to the crime scene, and he did not anticipate press reports of a compromised crime scene or lost evidence. The UN-led International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has told us privately that it will investigate the case. ¶5. (C) Silvio Mora Mora, the Nicaraguan Ambassador to Guatemala, visited the crime scene and has made several public calls for Guatemalan authorities to properly investigate the incident. Press reported that the Nicaraguan Attorney General also implored Guatemalan authorities to investigate and capture those responsible. Former Attorney General Juan Luis Florido told to the DCM that he doubted that GOG security organizations had the training and capacity to effectively investigate and prosecute major cases such as these most recent killings. ¶6. (C) Several sources are reporting that the last known communication with passengers on the bus was when a male passenger called his sister to tell her that they were in Guatemala. He reportedly told his sister that the bus had just been stopped by the Guatemalan police and that he had to hang up. Estrada stated that while he could not confirm police involvement in the crime, he thought it was highly probable, adding that his office was examining GPS records from police vehicles to
determine if any units had been in the area of the crime when the murders occurred. ¶7. (C) Comment: The murder and burning of so many victims has captured the attention of the public and the local media, and this case promises to be only the latest in a line of high-profile murders that continue to highlight the GOG's inability to provide citizen security. At present it is not certain which organized crime group was behind the attacks, or that members of the Guatemalan Police were actually involved. However, many observers believe that this was the work of narcotics traffickers and their associates in the Guatemalan police. McFarland (Edited and reading.) reformatted by Andres for ease of