Guatemala City – The family of Guatemalan presidential candidate Manuel Baldizon has left a violence-wracked region after receiving death threats from people claiming to belong to Mexican criminal organization Los Zetas.
In statements to Emisoras Unidas radio, the candidate of the small opposition Renewed Democratic Freedom, or Lider, party said his father, Salvador Baldizon, and his father's housekeeper received threatening phone calls from people who said they were members of Los Zetas.
The callers warned them they would go to the house and slit their throats.
"Sadly, (the threat of violence) also has hit my parents," the candidate said, adding that he has decided to take them from Flores, capital of the northern province of Peten, for safety reasons.
"My father, who's 81, my mother (Dora Mendez), who's in a wheelchair (and) is over 70, and my 78-year-old aunt Lupita are coming" to Guatemala City, he said.
Baldizon said that, according to his family, the callers said they would break into the homes of those who support a recently declared state of emergency in Peten and slit their throats.
President Alvaro Colom issued the emergency decree for Peten, which borders Mexico and Belize, as part of efforts to track down members of the Zetas gang, suspected of perpetrating a massacre of 27 hired hands at a ranch in Peten last weekend.
Peten, a province covered by dense jungles, is used by international drug traffickers to smuggle narcotics from South America into Mexico.
Baldizon said his family "is being taken from Flores (an island on Lake Peten Itza) to the capital for their protection" and that it is the first time they have received a death threat.
The candidate said the threats will not stop him from supporting security measures to combat organized crime because "Guatemala needs to act with a firm hand."
Baldizon, who has less than 5 percent support in voter-preference surveys ahead of Guatemala's Sept. 11 general elections, favors the death penalty as a means of deterring violent crime.
He said his party has urged authorities since January to decree a state of emergency in Peten, Guatemala's largest province by area, to wrest control of that region from drug traffickers.
That measure gives authorities greater scope for carrying out operations to capture the perpetrators of the brutal massacre, in which 26 of the victims were beheaded.
Security forces on Tuesday arrested Guatemalan suspect Hugo Alvarez Gomez, a former army soldier who, according to Colom, is a senior Zetas leader with direct links to the massacre.
Investigators suspect that the "Zeta 200" cell of Los Zetas, considered Mexico's most violent drug cartel, killed the hired hands.
Three eyewitnesses, including a wounded massacre survivor and a pregnant woman spared by the gunmen, have been placed in a witness protection program and are providing information to investigators.
Officials do not have detailed figures on the number of killings carried out by Los Zetas in Guatemala, but they say that the cartel has been behind at least a dozen massacres that have claimed the lives of about 100 people since 2008.
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 about a decade on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
Los Zetas, in addition to trafficking drugs, is also involved in kidnappings, armed robberies and extortion rackets.