The Biden administration just placed a $10 million reward on the head of the leader of a little-known cartel in Guatemala. The prize for Eugenio Darío Molina-López “Molina”, head of Los Huistas, is twice that offered for help leading to the capture of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s sons, known as Los Chapitos, which was set to $5 million for each in December 2021.
Molina’s Huistas cartel just got flagged as one of the main criminal partners providing drugs to Mexico’s two biggest criminal organizations: the Sinaloa Cartel and the New Generation Jalisco Cartel (or CJNG by its Spanish acronym).
Several other members of Los Huistas were also sanctioned by three separate U.S. departments (State, Justice, and Treasury) for “threatening the people and security of the United States and Guatemala,” by working with the Mexican drug-trafficking groups in Mexico.
The move reflects how both Mexican cartels have been working on strengthening their Central American operations—a key strategic region for the cultivation and transportation of drugs to the U.S. and Europe— as well as the importance of their criminal associates in this region.
“Los Huistas drug-trafficking organization smuggles deadly narcotics, including cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, from Guatemala through Mexico for distribution in multiple cities in the United States,” said Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson in a press release.
“Los Huistas DTO [drug-trafficking organization] controls poppy cultivation fields in the mountainous region spanning the Guatemalan departments of Huehuetenango and San Marcos and has imported precursor chemicals from China to manufacture methamphetamine,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Two other prominent members of Los Huistas, Aler Baldomero Samayoa-Recinos, alias “Chicharra” and his son-in-law Freddy Arnoldo Salazar Flores, were sanctioned separately “for the trafficking of multi-ton quantities of cocaine from South and Central America into Mexico, ultimately destined for the United States.” Flores is currently a congressman in the Central American Parliament, a regional political institution.
For at least 10 years, Los Huistas have built a strong network of political influence to help the organization thrive.
In early 2021, Henry Hernández, brother of Guatemalan Congress vice president, Sofía Jeanetth Hernández, was arrested on charges of money-laundering for Los Huistas, according to the Attorney General’s Office. He was killed last January during a gunfight in a soccer game in Guatemala. Another brother, Filomeno Hernández, was accused of money laundering for Los Huistas by a news investigation in 2021. Both Filomeno and Henry laundered millions for Los Huistas by operating several businesses around the country, according to El Periodico, a Guatemalan national newspaper.
Sofía Hernández has denied knowledge of any criminal involvement of her brothers.
Corruption within Guatemala's political elites has long aided the growth of criminal organizations. A top anti-corruption Guatemalan judge resigned her charge on Monday and fled to the U.S. for her own safety. Judge Erika Aifán was considered a key element in fighting corruption in Guatemala and announced her resignation on Twitter.
“They left me no option. I don’t have any guarantees to my life and integrity,” Aifán said in a short video. “Several political and criminal networks were affected by our advance towards justice.”
Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG have been fighting for control of drug production and transportation in Guatemala for years, according to a 2020 report by Colombia’s International Investigation Center against Maritime Drug-trafficking.
As the U.S. continues to crack down criminal organizations in Central America via sanctions and rewards for information leading to top targets, the presence of these criminal organizations throughout the region is one of the biggest threats to public security.