GUATEMALA CITY (AFP) – At least 27 people were found decapitated on a farm in northern Guatemala on the Mexican border Sunday, and police officials say the killings could be linked to drug gangs operating in the area.
"Among the 27 dead were two women. All of them were beheaded," the spokesman for the Guatemalan police, Donald Gonzalez, told AFP. He added that homicide officers from the national police were on the scene, but they do not yet know when the killings occurred.
The bodies were discovered in the department of Peten at a farm in San Andres, some 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of the capital.
If the killings are linked to the Mexican drug cartels, they would be among the largest ever in Guatemala tied to the criminal gangs.
Police chief Jaime Otzin told reporters there were few details, but that police were investigating two possibilities related to drug gangs.
The first involved the Mexican cartel "Los Zetas" that operates in the region, trafficking drugs through Latin America en route to the lucrative market in the United States.
The second possibility is that the killings were related to the murder on Saturday of Haroldo Lara Leon, a farmer and brother of the late drug trafficker Juan Jose Leon, who was killed by the Zetas gang in 2008.
Haroldo Leon was killed while riding in a truck on a country road with some 250,000 quetzales (around $31,000) cash, money he apparently intended to use to pay his workers.
Otzin did not suggest how the murders might be related.
Guatemala already has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America, an average of 18 per day. Most crimes are attributed to feared drug gangs known as "maras."
On November 30, 2008, 20 people were killed in the village of Agua Clara in the department of Huehuetenango near the border with Mexico.
Three weeks earlier authorities found a burned bus with the bodies of 15 Nicaraguans and one Dutchmen, who had come to buy Guatemalan merchandise, on a road in the department of Zacapa.
The high numbers of homicides and systemic failure of the judicial system in a country where 98% of crimes go unpunished led the United Nations to create the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which began operations in late 2007.
The Commission is charged with investigating and prosecuting serious crime in Guatemala. So far, several former senior officials and former police chiefs have been arrested and face prosecution by the committee.
Guatemala's violence still pales, however, in comparison with the brutal drug war to the north, in Mexico, where over 37,000 people have died since December 2006, when a military crackdown was launched on the illegal drug cartels.