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Mexican drug traffickers set up new cells in Central America

Los Zetas, one of the most violent drug gangs in Mexico, has recruited local former military agents, terrorized migrants, and lured poor farmers and youths to work as hired hands.

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A police officer holds a block of cocaine found in a van with Guatemalan license plates originating from Costa Rica in Managua, Monday. Mexican drug cartels have been branching out south of the Mexican boarder where they have been terrorizing and recruiting farmers and youths.

Inti Ocon/Reuters

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Mexico’s drug traffickers may be selling hard drugs to their northern neighbors, but they’re exporting a far more dangerous product south of the Mexican border: their very own franchise.

One of the most violent drug gangs in Mexico, Los Zetas, has set up cells in several Central American countries. They’ve recruited local former military agents to their training camps, terrorized undocumented migrants, and lured poor farmers and youth to work as hired hands, just like they’ve done in Mexico, experts say.

The latest sign of how entrenched Los Zetas have become: Alleged members of the group forced radio stations in a Guatemalan province earlier this week to broadcast a threat of “war” against civilians. Their conditions were unclear, but they appeared to be calling on law enforcement to cease targeting traffickers.

The radio message accuses Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom of accepting $11 million in drug money and warns of a war at malls, schools, and police stations. “Many people will die at meeting centers in coming days,” the message says.

If the threats are indeed carried out, it could escalate drug violence in the region in a way not seen before.

The threat followed President Colom’s declaration of a siege Dec. 19 in the northern Alta Verapaz province, a smuggling route where Los Zetas have a significant presence. The declaration allows police to conduct warrantless arrests and searches. The president reportedly said he would not let threats shake his resolve against Los Zetas.

How Los Zetas operates

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