Guatemala City – Guatemalan security forces captured 11 suspected members of violent Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas while they were preparing for a party at a ranch, officials said.
The arrests were made Sunday and Monday as part of an intelligence operation conducted at a ranch in Ixcan, a town in the northwestern Guatemalan province of Quiche near the border with Mexico, Interior Minister Carlos Menocal said at a press conference Tuesday.
Authorities determined that a "narcofiesta" was being planned at the ranch based on "the movement of suspicious people and of merchandise of Mexican origin, especially beer," Menocal said.
After obtaining a warrant, the security forces raided the ranch on Sunday, arresting four Guatemalans and a Mexican woman and confiscating weapons and purebred horses and "exotic animals" that were to be used for horse races and cockfights at the ranch, the minister said.
Another four women believed to be Mexican nationals were arrested on Monday, while two other Guatemalans also were taken into custody, including the son of a suspected local drug trafficker wanted for several months for purported ties to Los Zetas.
The 11 detainees have been jailed in the Guatemalan capital and their arrest represents "a blow to this drug-trafficking organization," the minister added.
Menocal had told a radio station on Sunday that the arrests were made as part of the probe into a massacre of 27 farmworkers in May at a ranch in Peten province - which borders Mexico and Belize - that was blamed on Los Zetas.
For her part, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz said the 11 suspects are accused of crimes including criminal conspiracy and illegal weapons possession.
Authorities say Los Zetas, a band of special forces deserters turned outlaws that is considered Mexico's most violent drug cartel, extended its reach into Guatemala more than two years ago.
A cell of that criminal gang is blamed for the May 15 massacre of the 27 farmworkers, most of whom were decapitated.
Authorities have arrested a score of suspects in the killings, including the purported mastermind, a Guatemalan national identified as Elder Estuardo Morales Pineda.
The victims apparently were hired hands at the ranch owned by reputed Guatemalan drug trafficker Otto Salguero, whom the Zetas accused of supplying cocaine to the rival Gulf cartel.
Salguero has been missing since the day of the massacre.
While officials lack detailed figures on the number of killings carried out by Los Zetas in Guatemala, they say the Mexican cartel has been behind at least a dozen massacres that have claimed the lives of about 100 people since 2008.