Guatemala and Mexico’s military operation against organized crime on shared border

By February 13, 2024

Mexico City, Mexico — The Guatemalan Ministry of Defense announced the beginning of Operation Belt of Fire, a joint military front involving the armed forces of Mexico and Guatemala. The military deployment comes amid a growing expansion of Mexican criminal organizations along the shared border. 

On February 6, Guatemalan army spokesman Ruben Téllez announced that 5,000 soldiers from his armed forces, along with more than 500 national civilian police officers, were stationed along the border with Mexico. The Guatemalan military units are joined by about 700 Mexican soldiers deployed within Mexico. 

“These operations are part of the actions undertaken during the first 120 days of the government and are aimed at strengthening governance, security, safeguarding the patrimony of the population, strengthening local commerce, development and counteracting the actions of transnational organized crime, especially smuggling, arms trafficking, and human trafficking,” said Téllez in a video shared through the army’s social media. 

The operation covers the departments of Huehuetenango, San Marcos, El Quiche, and Retalhuleu in Guatemala and the state of Chiapas in Mexico. Border posts and roadblocks have been set up as part of the measures implemented. 

The Guatemalan army shared that the operation has already borne fruit and intercepted a vehicle without license plates that tried to cross from Mexican territory through Huehuetenango. 

Reportedly, a Guatemalan man and a minor of Mexican nationality were arrested, while 29 packages with “possible cocaine” were seized along with different communication devices, more than 7,000 Quetzals (under USD $900), and over 22,000 Mexican pesos (over USD $1,200).

Organized Crime at the border

Recently, the southern region of Mexico has experienced a dramatic increase in the presence of large criminal syndicates. The border between Mexico and Central America has been a hotspot for criminal groups vying for its control. 

By January 2024, up to 2,300 people had  been displaced by the increasing violence resulting from the dispute between large criminal organizations such as the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel. 

By September 2023, Guatemalan authorities had warned of the presence of the CJNG within their territory. In an official document shared by international media, authorities reported that CJNG members “intend to enter Guatemalan territory through the border with Mexico.” The official reports an “invasion” by the cartel into at least ten departments of the country for “control of territory.” 

Guatemala deployed up to 2,000 troops to the border since late September of last year. By January 8, 2024, the Guatemalan military reported its first confrontation with Mexican narcos.