Guatemala: 27 massacred, decapitated in Petén by paramilitary drug gang Los Zetas (UPDATED)

Written in the blood from a victim's severed leg, in Spanish: "What's up, Otto Salguero, you bastard? We are going to find you and behead you, too. —Sincerely, Z200." Guatemalan media reports Otto Salguero is the owner of the ranch where at least 27 workers were killed, 26 of whom were decapitated, yesterday. Salguero is believed to be linked to the drug trade, and in conflict with the Zetas.


Update, 10:45pm PT: Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom has declared a state of martial law in the Péten region, in response to Sunday's massacre.

On a cattle ranch in the northern Petén region of Guatemala yesterday, at least 27 agricultural workers were murdered, 26 of whom were decapitated, after dozens of armed commandos (reported numbers vary between 30 and 200) stormed the ranch and demanded to know where owner Otto Salguero was. Guatemalan authorities say none of the victims were involved in drug trafficking, all were innocent laborers, none knew where the ranch owner was. Among the confirmed victims: two women and two children. One man is reported to have survived by pretending to be dead after the attackers stabbed him in the stomach. He told a reporter the killing began around 7 pm Saturday, and ended around 3 am Sunday. He escaped two hours later, badly wounded, encountering a pile of human heads along the way.

Another survivor, possibly the only other survivor, was a pregnant mother. According to various reports, the armed men let her go because her little girl was screaming so loudly. What happened to her child, and other children at the scene not confirmed dead, is unclear.

A spokesman for Guatemala's police described what they found on Sunday morning: "One whole body, 26 bodies without heads, and 23 heads." This is the worst single incident of violence since the country's 36-year civil war ended in 1996, and is seen by many in the country as a symbolic act of political terror, while the nation prepares for presidential elections. Messages at the scene written on a wall in the victims' blood (various reports say they were scrawled with a severed leg) make clear who is responsible: Los Zetas, a paramilitary Mexican drug gang that in recent years has expanded throughout Central America and operates with particular impunity and freedom within Guatemala. The organization has long recruited from the ranks of kaibiles, the elite special forces division of the Guatemalan army trained in jungle warfare who carried out massacres of indigenous peasants during the civil war. The brutality evidenced in this massacre, even the killing techniques, brings to mind the worst of the death squad attacks in the 1980s. The leader of the armed group that carried out this massacre is reported to have identified himself to the workers as "kaibil."

Renata Avila at Global Voices has a thorough roundup of news links and updates from people in Petén who posted first-hand observations and photos to Twitter.

The violence continued today. AP:

Two men were killed and one suspect in the massacre was taken into custody after a confrontation with police Monday morning, while grenades were tossed at a home and business in a town near San Benito, where the bodies were taken for identification.

At the top and inset of this post, above: photographs tweeted from the scene by Twitter user Tekandi Paniagua, who traveled there today, as did Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom with senior members of the Guatemalan government and military police. Tweeting from the site, Tekandi described what he saw as "scenes from a horror movie," with the farmworkers' residences torn apart, belongings shredded, blood everywhere. Tekandi described what he witnessed as "unforgettable and horrendous," adding, "I honestly believe that [now] only God can rescue Guatemala."


The massacre took place in a small pueblo in the jungle about 275 miles (440 km) north of the nation's capital, Guatemala City. The site is close to the Mexican border, and not far from the town of La Libertad: Google Maps link here. The Péten region has become increasingly lawless in recent years as the power and presence of drug cartels grows; some refer to it as the country's "Wild West." As regular readers of this blog know, I have traveled and worked as a volunteer extensively in Guatemala. I have avoided the Petén over the past couple of years as security conditions grew poorer, for locals and foreigners alike. This region is rich in pre-Columbian history: it's where some of the greatest ruins of the ancient Maya are located, including Tikal. In much of the sparsely populated Petén, there are more plants and wildlife than there are humans. The infrastructure throughout is limited. Narcos aside, the people here are among the country's poorest and most marginalized.

News coverage: Prensa Libre (Spanish, includes video); BBC News, Reuters, Associated Press a second AP item, CNN, WSJ, AFP.

Below, graphic photos from Reuters taken today that show Guatemalan police standing by the decapitated bodies, and forensic workers in a field of severed heads. Click to un-mosaic and view photos unaltered.


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Google Maps link: the red marker is La Libertad, the closest town to Caseria la Bomba, the pueblo where the massacre took place.

Below, an aerial view of the massacre site, photographed today for Reuters.



  1. We’ve (the human race) always been like this right? For some reason I find that if that is so, it is far easier to deal with than are we becoming this.

    Makes me want to believe in god so that the justice will be meted out on the animals who committed this atrocity.

    Makes me not believe in god, bc how could he allow such a horror.

    Is it better to be naive or jaded?

    1. In the absence of the rule of law there is only the rule of men, and among men it is all too often the one who is willing to commit the worst atrocities who will lead. There is nothing new about what has happened here, and still it manages to shock and revolt [most of] us, proving only that we are still human, still capable of reason and compassion.

      1. Such thing have always happened, yet this is *not* the normal state of human existence. That is precisely why these events are remembered in legends across many generations.

        1. If this brutality is the human condition, than it is our responsibility,as we humans have the choice and capability, to change this condition.

      2. @ egoVirus – What an absurdly cynical and ignorant claim. This assumes that there simply is no legal system in Guatemala, an assertion that is fundamentally incorrect. With this little smug blub you relegate Guatemala to some Darwinian, lawless landscape. Guatemala’s legal tradition predates anything in the US. That there is violence, as rampant and disgusting as this, does not absolve the perpetrators of these heinous acts. Save your condescension and cynicism for less horrific affairs, preferably ones where you have some expertise.

    2. As i understand it, God has given us freewill. We, humans, are responsible for the horrors by the choices we make.

    3. We’ve (the human race) always been like this right?

      Yes. The only difference between them and us is circumstances.

    4. We need to launch a full scale, massive invasion of Mexico and Central America and completely annihilate the drug gangs. Leave not a single field of coca, pot, or poppy unburned anywhere, destroy every single farm that grows or processes drugs, summarily execute all gang leaders and members on sight, seize or destroy all of their property and vehicles, destroy all their military equipment, and end this. No judge, no jury. If we can afford to do this sh!t in Afghanistan and Iraq no questions asked, we need to focus on home and our neighbors and take care of business. These subhuman gang members can’t be reasoned with or rehabilitated, but they can die. It’s time for our pissant leadership to get their priorities straight and let our boys smoke these MFs.

      1. The U.S. has been involved in an ongoing war for much too long, the debt ceiling has nearly been reached, and you’re suggesting the U.S. invade another country to kill the drug gangs? You do realize that’s a preposterous idea, right?

      2. You are a horrible person.
        the mexicans would greet you not with open arms, but with firearms.

        Here’s some words about how
        Mexicans feel about these matter.
        From a report covering the massive and un-reported marches against the “War on Drugs” which has ravaged Mexico, and which you so strongly advocate escalating – as a response to the psyop terror committed by those who most profit from the present “War on Drugs”!

        “The protest leaders called for an end to President Calderón’s “drug war”, claiming that the increase in military campaigns to stop the drug cartels is only escalating the violence and increasing civilian deaths.

        Sicilia said: “The corruption at the heart and the root of the institutions has overtaken us.”

        Before the march, Calderón rejected the movement’s calls, saying the war on drugs was the responsibility of all civilians and an end would allow drug cartels impunity.

        But few seemed to be listening as thousands came together to silently show their outrage at the escalating violence.”

        From the Independent of the UK:

        …but who cares what the Mexicans want? Send in the Marines! You can raise the tax on beer to pay for it.

  2. When I read this, I wondered where the drug gangs’ drugs wind up.

    Turns out it’s cocaine and heroin, destined for North American consumers.

    It’s us. We killed these people, as surely as if we’d wielded the knives.

    Decriminalize. Now.

    1. and in the meantime, stop buying cocaine and heroine. Shun those that do and make it explicit that this horror is why. We can’t wait for decriminalization.

      1. I don’t use drugs and don’t know any that do and it doesn’t seem to be making a difference.

  3. If one is a casual user of cocaine, etc. (not an addict), maybe one should think about what they are supporting. Maybe one should boycott a product that brings money and power to such people. I ain’t buying what these people are selling.

    1. Fruits, drugs, or just pure “economic development”.

      In 1978, the Guatemalan government proceeded with its economic development program, including the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. Financed in large part by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, the Chixoy Dam was built in Rabinal, a region historically populated by the Maya Achi.
      The government completed voluntary and forcible relocations of dam-affected communities from the fertile agricultural valleys to the much harsher surrounding highlands. When hundreds of residents refused to relocate, or returned after finding the conditions of resettlement villages were not what the government had promised, these men, women, and children were kidnapped, raped, and massacred by paramilitary and military officials.
      More than 440 Maya Achi were killed in the village of Río Negro alone, and the string of extrajudicial killings that claimed up to 5,000 lives between 1980 and 1982 became known as the Río Negro Massacres.

  4. Current drug policies do not work. Legalize it and tax it. Just like alcohol and tobacco. The current collusion only provides money to two groups: Drug Agencies and Drug Traffickers.

  5. more victims from the West’s insane war on drugs. So we’re traipsing all over Afghanistan, routed Saddam and our neighbors are bleeding to death by the tens of thousands?

    1. Afghanistan… Home of the world’s Poppy fields… Opium is derived from poppies… Heroin… Drugs… $$$$ Get it?

  6. Using horrific violence as a weapon provokes one of two responses: 1) recoil in horror or 2) link arms against the small and cruel part of the society who believe in horror.

  7. Nixon declared our “War On Drugs” when soldiers were coming home from Vietnam hooked on heroin. As an ex-junkie, I can definitively state that we’ve lost that “war”; put me in any decent sized city in the US and I’ll cop dope in an hour. Baltimore took 25 minutes because the fucking LINE was long.

    Anyone who thinks their casual coke or pot use is victimless need only look at these pictures. Or at our nation’s prison population.

    Decriminalize and tax the shit out of it.

    1. I don’t want to detract from the gravity of this *but*… Casual pot use? … Really? If you don’t know someone growing great pot locally you need to get out more or move away from Nebrahoma.

      1. Yeah, because us Nebraska/Oklahoma residents don’t know anything outside of what we see on reruns of Hee Haw. I sometimes forget how more important people in “real” cities are.

        I think what you meant to say is that people need to step outside of their conservative bubbles and see what’s really going on around them, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth (or eatin holes as we call them here in the backwoods of Nebraska).

    2. I agree that decriminalization is the answer, however your assertion that the casual use of cannabis is also part of the problem is only partially correct. There is quite a healthy industry of homegrown (ie. American grown) cannabis that is marketed all across the United States. Of that segment, there is also a good portion of non-violently distributed product that is widely available to those lucky/privileged/wise enough to seek out those sources – which also tend to have the bonus of being higher quality product as well.

      But it is also true there is some cannabis available in the US that comes from Mexico. And I’m relatively sure that a great deal of that is distributed via the drug lords and cartels who also distribute other illicit substances as well. So basically it is a sad fact that if you don’t know the source of where something comes from, you may inadvertently be contributing to organizations that you may not otherwise support in any form or fashion.

      Hopefully, ours or a near-future generation of American will realize the prohibition in any form simply does not work and legislates accordingly.

  8. First I read that drug abuse is a victimless crime- and so should be decriminalized- and now that it’s the root cause of this barbarism -and so should be decriminalized.

    1. The point being that doing so is the only thing that will stop this. There was violence and atrocities when America was stupid enough to ban alcohol. How is the current puritanical lunacy any different?
      There. Is. No. Other. Solution.

    2. Drugs are not the root cause of the violence. Prohibition is. Simple supply and demand.

      It hasn’t come up here yet, but in reply to this I often get “But if you legalise x, the cartels will just move on to y illegal commodity.”

      I think this is backwards- the cartels are responding to market forces- demand. Criminals flock to the trade because there is big big money in it.

      If, say, weed is legalized, that is a major dent in product demand. Suddenly they’re competing with every grow shmo on the continent. It’s not like they can make up the difference forcing more heroin on the united states. (I don’t think they have a budget for marketing.) So with less product they will make less money, and thus have less power.

      Is there a gap in my logic somewhere?

      1. You are assuming that drug demand is inevitable, hence prohibition “forces” people to do bad things.

        Bad assumption.

        Demand is not inevitable. Using is a choice. Breaking the law to get those drugs is a choice. Breaking the law to supply those drugs is a choice. Savagery, as seen in these photos, is a choice.

        We’re powerless in the face of such evil? Decriminalization is the only solution?

        Like hell.

        1. Now picture yourself saying the same thing, but during the Prohibition Era:

          Drinking Alcohol is a choice. Break the law to get Alcohol is a choice. Breaking the law to supply Alcohol is a choice. Savagery, as seen in these photos [Warning: Graphic], is a choice.

          We’re powerless in the face of such evil? Decriminalization is the only solution?

          Yes. Yes it is.

        2. Legalize now….or do you suggest that we slaughter all the drug users?

          Count me out of your war to preserve the profits of both the criminal gangs and police/prison/military forces….there is a revolving door between the two.

          Legalize and dis-empower both of those armed gangs.

          The people who did this were ex-gov-troops, were they not? Veterans of Guatemala’s long dirty wars, wars ignored while US forces and occupied the Middle East.

          The “Money for nothing” boys at work. Overpriced toxic oil, overpriced toxic drugs, and oh so many guns and violent thugs.

        3. Making laws that deem certain plants illegal is a choice, too. Great harm to innocent people, not even users of these illegal plants, is increasing by maintaining the status quo.

          Do you want to see this kind of violence come to your town?

          The cartels have already infiltrated the border patrol. There have been cartel-related murders inside the US. How long before random US citizens are found beheaded?

        4. Using is a choice. Breaking the law to get those drugs is a choice. Breaking the law to supply those drugs is a choice.

          Not sure if troll, but I’m calling you on this one. Same argument has been used countless times to justify all forms of prohibition, even condoms in high schools. It is just plain disingenuous. You know very well that 330 million people in North America are not going to wake up one day and simultaneously decide to give up their drugs, any more than teenagers en masse are suddenly going to decide they don’t want to fuck until they’re married.

          A more nuanced view might see people as economic animals. People want their booze and drugs so badly, that there is enough economic opportunity to fight over it. That it is illegal means that only criminals can take advantage of this opportunity. Because North American governments cringe and whinge and wring their hands over the moral issue of individuals choosing to take drugs, their political policies directly create the suffering we have seen only a tiny piece of in this story. What can I do as an individual – vote differently? The same tired prohibition is supported by all candidates. Stop using drugs? Lots of people don’t use drugs, and it doesn’t change anything.

          Ironically, this economic opportunity could fill the coffers of every municipal, provincial and federal government on this continent. California faces economic ruin while the dealers ride the streets in Caddies.

          ackpht, try again. If you were in politics, what would you do? Walk up and down the street with a megaphone telling people to make the right choices? In fact, I’m of the opinion that it is the loud voices of folks like you that prevent politicians from tackling this problem squarely. So – quit it.

          My heart goes out to these people, and their families.

        5. By dint of their conditions and choices some people become thugs. Usually they are limited in the damage they can inflict on others as they have few opportunities to accrue power and are, thus, outgunned by civil society and its law enforcement arm.

          If there had been no drug war there would have been no economic empowerment of the thugs who were more than happy to become dealers and satisfy humanity’s perennial desire to get high.

          Unfortunately there was a drug war and now we sit with two problems:

          1) In many parts of the world the thugs are now better funded and better armed than law enforcement.

          2) Treating addiction as a crime makes it harder to get help, not easier.

          The posters who point out that decriminalization would only result in the thugs switching (as many already have) to more lucrative enterprises such as slave trafficking, taking over governments and establishing theocracies are, unfortunately, right.

          On the other hand, not decriminalizing ensures that our society continues to provide and protect a very simple business model that delivers great economic power to any moderately ambitious thug who is not scared to get blood on his hands.

          We have to treat both these problems. We have to change the policy that continues to make it possible for stone cold killers to become & stay rich. We have to provide strategic support (i.e. real support, not sending troops) to what remains of civil society in those states where the drug cartels rule in all but name.

          If we do not, we are going to wake up one day soon to find that Los Zetas are expanding their business model to include the invasion of neighboring states.

  9. This isn’t the normal state of existence for most of the people who read this blog. But hundreds of millions of other people are not so lucky. What is the genesis of this horrific violence? Hierarchy and domination ultimately provide the rationale that allows people to do this to each other. Whether its pogroms or wars, executions or assassinations, Bhopal or Chernobyl, there’s always an excuse — “We had to destroy the village in order to save it from Communism”; “All wars involve collateral damage”; “Our job is to maximize profits for the shareholders”; “They were resisting arrest”; and on and on. There’s a spurious quotation, beloved of the sort of internet troll who likes to flame people who work for peace and freedom, that goes “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” But ultimately, it is the very fact that so many of us sleep so soundly that allows others the opportunity to do this kind of violence. We need to wake up, abolish the state’s monopoly on violence, take responsibility for ourselves and our communities, and undo the destructive systems that take 18 year-old boys and turn them into vicious mercenary killers.

  10. Well good news is the average delivery time for coke might take 25 minutes instead of 20. Keep up the good work.

  11. Decriminalize hard drugs in the states? Lol. That’s insane. Even places like Amsterdam have banned hard drugs. Decriminalization won’t do a thing.

      1. arghh… I agree that that guys statement is idiotic and not well thought out… but why accuse him of being a troll when he’s really just an idiot, or someone you disagree with? I find this to be a very vexing trend. Someone who makes a post that goes against the majority opinion, or even against th efacts, is not a troll. And guy who’s statement is idiotic and not well thought out, do a little research on portugal and their drugs strategy.

    1. The drug war will only get more and more intense. What a lot of people don’t realize is that heroin and cocaine aren’t really expensive to produce. The inflated cost comes from risks related to transportation and the number of times it exchanges hands.

      By legalizing all drugs you cause the price of drugs like heroin and cocaine to crash catastrophically making it no longer feasible for these gangs to continue operating. Only then can you hope on dismantling them. Any attempt to combat the gangs while drugs are still illegal only drives prices up, and that money covers any losses the gangs may suffer.

      The money that was spent on fighting gangs can then be spent on rehabilitation and education (“Just say No” is what you teach kids in the first grade, not teenagers and adults).

      There are illegal drugs that are well-suited to be a part of a medical/psychiatric treatment program or even a healthy lifestyle and recent research has proven their medical benefits.

  12. It is deeply disturbing to read about the loss of so many Peténeros. It is a beautiful area that has been plagued with horrible violence for too long.

    This video (quicktime stream) captures some of the area’s paleo (and archaeo) importance and beauty. It is from a scientific drilling project I was involved with in Lake Petén Itzá.

    1. Thanks, Dustin. I’ve spent a lot of time there, too, and it’s an extraordinarily beautiful part of Guatemala, with good people. To think that 27 or more of them, innocent poor farmworkers, were killed in such a horrific way… women and children among them… it’s like the worst of the “dark years” all over again. So tragic.

      1. “By legalizing all drugs you cause the price of drugs like heroin and cocaine to crash catastrophically making it no longer feasible for these gangs to continue operating.”


        The money sitch, in my humble opinion, is why drugs remain illegal.

        Some people love money. I’m guessing that’s why 27 Mayan peasants were murdered.

        Some people love people. I’m guessing that’s why 27 Mayan peasants refused to tell a group of some 200 armed men where to find the ranch owner.

        Thank you to Dustin for sharing the positive and beautiful video. At first I cringed when I read drilling, thinking oil, but I see it was drilling for truth, I think.

        I don’t wanna even start on the oil companies/energy thieves, but I will say this.

        When my girlfriend and I(her best friend was on the first plane that hit), witnessed 9/11 live on TV, I realized that we were entering a new era of death television, designed by the energy thieves to instill fear.

        We should not fear the Energy Thieves, now known to me as the Fear Machine. I use the capital leters in that sentence to emphasize that there is such an animal.

        Let’s persevere loving one another, where all that’s weird and wonderful flourishes, yes, forever.

        I was a heavy cocaine and heroin addict from 1990-95. My girlfriend died from it in 2003. Only someone that is or was addicted as we were can understand the kind of slavery it is to be addicted like that.

      2. How many times have you been to that particular area, and how long did you spend there?

  13. I live in the capital of Guatemala and here we are horrified by these events. But I disagree on: “The brutality evidences in this massacre, the killing events Techniques, Brings to mind the death squad Same Attacks in this region 40 years ago. ” At the time of war commands buried the corpses, in this case, the modus operandi was different. Because what los Zetas want is attention . It’s sad that you discuss if consume little or much change things.

    Also I have my doubts about the objectivity of your source as they are a leftist. For them, any military that has been trained as Kaibil is a murderer. They should not generalize.

  14. >A major reason for their “professionalism” in this area is that many of the Zetas have received some specialized military or other tactical training from U.S. agencies, including from the DEA, FBI and U.S. military.

    A former DEA officials who worked extensively south of the border during his career explains:

    “A lot of the Zetas came from former Mexican police offices or the military, and some are even students from universities in Texas that work part time with the Zetas to provide security. So they come from a diverse background. Some of them have prior training from the DEA, FBI and the U.S. military, as well as other agencies. We go to great lengths to assure they are not engaged in criminal activity before training them, but later on they can be lured into drug business by the money. It happens … And they (the Zetas) are very organized and have recruiters, who are out constantly bringing in new people and training them.”

    That means the Zetas understand U.S. and Mexican government strategy in the drug war, and they are equipped, thanks to the money inherent in the narco-trafficking trade, to carry out sophisticated surveillance, security and assassination assignments. <

  15. In many ways, we are not entirely clear of the 16th century. And in acts like these, almost mundane below the Rio Grande, we are just entering the 21st.

  16. After reading this through and looking at the uncensored pics, I took a break to let the pop-eyed rage subside. I have no regard for anything that hurts or kills people simply to further some fleeting, temporal end. Money, drugs, whatever. The men who make-up these cartels should be cut from society with the same clinical efficiency as when a skin cancer is cut away. The cartels are not comprised of human beings. They merely wear human forms to camouflage themselves.

    As for a solution to such savagery, is it really in US hands to radically change our anti-drug laws? I do see and understand both sides of the legalization argument in the context of the cartel problems. On the other hand, I’ve spent enough time around heroin, cocaine and crack addicts to know that the constant craving for their drugs can make them just as savage as the traffickers who provide it.

    So what do you do? Do you legalize hard drugs and expose your own people to powerful vectors of societal failure, or do you let those drugs remain illegal, then watch the smugglers next door butcher their own people in the name of black market trade?

    1. The answer, I believe, is in rehabilitation.

      One of the greatest problems of heroin, cocaine, and meth are withdrawal symptoms. A little known psychoactive substance called Ibogaine has been proven to successfully get people to kick the habit within a couple of days, as opposed to months of difficult therapy.

      The only problem is Ibogaine is a Schedule I drug in the US. According to its Schedule I classification, it’s a drug with no medical benefits and a high potential for abuse, and unfortunately, neither of these are true. There are a number of Ibogaine testimonials from former addicts on Youtube.

      1. Destronok, Ibogaine helped me see my own spirit in my blood in the syringe when I shot up. I say it most certainly helped me quit. I wanted to quit, which I think is essential. Help is all around is, if we want it, and if we don’t, nothing or no one can help.

    2. “Powerful vectors of societal failure.”

      Good one. +1.

      I would give a higher number, but from what I can glean from these message boards, one point is all that one is allowed to give.

      Indeed, what can anyone do? People with money will spend it to get high. If it is easy/pleasurable: the human will do it.

      Maybe that is not how you roll: but too many do for it ever to ‘go away’ or be ‘defeated’ in some half-assed proxy war.

      The whole game is F-d. But the drugs are -already here-. There are at this moment millions, getting rich or desperate or high as hell right now: who can stop it?

      Not governments. Not the clergy. Not Interpol or Nancy Reagan.

      There will always be the need (for some) to get high. Better to legalize. Spend incarceration funds on sobriety programs and vocational training.

      Is not the infrastructure of the US crumbling? Let our citizens build roads during the day and get comfortably high at night!

      Just don’t let the surveyors near the psychedelics until after they’ve finished. . .

    3. There is no use removing these cartels, as long as there is demand and huge profits. Every time one is removed, the next has taken it’s place. The more violence is used against farmers, smugglers, sellers and users, the more violence they need to use staying in business. Stop the violece, and they can trade openly and deal with the most reliable suppliers. We don’t have beer breweries and pharmacists decapitating each other. Addicts would also be able to get better help for the addiction. If we want to cut the demand, we shoud remove the causes for this self-destructing behavior. Most of the causes can be found in childhood abuse in broken families and in the dehumanizing school system.

  17. And the yuppies yell “boycott” “boycott” because all they know is that the lack of consumption is somehow a legitimate form of protest. They know this because the police do not beat them for expressing their opinions and no one charges them with a crime for not choosing to consume, as consume is the only thing they choose to do.

    America, get over the boycott and start dealing with the problem.

  18. A small percentage of people are born psychopaths. They gravitate towards money and power (business and politics) where their lack of empathy, their ruthlessness and their emphasis on self-gratification serve them well. In the old days (when we lived in small groups)we could monitor those people and get rid of them if their behaviour became too outrageous. Once we developed cities and states, we lost sight of them, lost control of them and have been royally fucked by them ever since.

  19. Sorry boing boing, but I’m struggling to understand why you would choose to make the uncensored photos available to your readership. What did you hope to achieve by doing so? I never thought I’d be complaining about a post on boing boing but you guys crossed a line here. Do a google search on “vicarious trauma”.

    1. The photos are truly too much to bear, but we were warned and they were pixilated. This article has given me more moments of reflection than most others. It is a reminder of who we are, what we are capable of, and the cautionary outrage will hopefully lead to discussion (as it has here), awareness, and action.

      So, in this sense, I believe it is better to be jaded than naive.

      Thank you Xeni.

  20. “I took a picture that I’ll have to send
    People here are friendly and content
    People here are colorful and bright
    The flowers often bloom at night

    Amanita is the name
    The flowers cover everything
    The flowers cover everything”

  21. Fuck me, the sign “warning, graphic images” is at the bottom of the post that begins with a picture of writing on the wall using blood?!?!?

    Sometimes I wonder about the sense of judgement you BB folks have…

  22. As to “graphic content”….
    History has always been written in blood.

    And Boing Boing is a little late to this “party”, although they have done better than most of the American media, whose coverage of drug issues is and has been nothing but Government propaganda for the Prohibition of drugs.

    Focusing on the violence, and not the reasons for it, also serves to strengthen the prohibitionist “cause”…in fact, massacres such as this can serve to strengthen public opinion for Prohibition and for harsher drug laws and “police action”.

    So….a step by gangsters, both in and out of Government, to keep their profit levels way way up, which they split with corrupt cops and anti-drug Government types.

    The people in mexico know rthe score, and want the War opn drugs to send now…by full legalization of all drug use.

    Others have long been reporting these “news”…

    …but it often seems that the major US Press and Media only pays attention if such serves to strengthen the emotional arguments for prohibition, and the hatred and fear of foreigners.

    Right, Ackpht?
    Scaring them straight,eh?

  23. Lots of coverage of this atrocity, and none at all devoted to the 90,000 who peacefully marched in Mexico City last weekend demanding an end to the Mexican government’s “war on drugs”?

    Whose interest does that editorial choice serve?

    Which “side”? And why are there “sides” here at all?
    Whose interest does THAT intellectual construction or presentation of these issues serve?

    A house divided against itself cannot stand.

  24. This massacre starts with you smoking a joint. No matter if you are peaceful, and you think smoking pot is cool, you fuel this massacre, the Mexican massacre and all drug related violence.

    You can deny and look for excuses, but no matter what you said, you are responsible of this too.

  25. The other consequence of legalizing the drug trade would be that those engaged in it could enforce their contracts with lawyers rather than guns. Say what you will about the over litigiousness of the US, but that beats raw violence as a means for settling commercial disputes. Much of the violence South of our borders is no longer directly associated with the drug trade, but the simple fact that the narco-gangs are “forced” to use violence and intimidation as a tool of their trade has ramped up the generalized level of violence in those countries.

  26. Having traveled in that same area, I’m reminded of all the kind people I met and of the phenomenal architecture and beauty of Tikal created by a great human culture so long ago.

    Thugs ruin everything.

  27. Drugs did not cause this. Treating drugs as a criminal issue rather than a health issue is what caused this. Replacing criminalization of drugs with health programs to address the minority of drug users who have problems with them would cost many times less, both in terms of cash and, most importantly, life lost to criminal activity and incarceration.

    How many more atrocities will we allow before we take action?

  28. We have a drug problem in the United States. We pretend it’s a legal problem, not a treatable medical problem. We also pretend it isn’t exacerbated by economic problems in vulnerable communities.

    Why do we do this? Because no matter what policy they’re espousing, there are always politicians who can gain support by saying that it’s a simple problem with simple solutions. Don’t believe me? Read back up this thread and note how many commenters, including ones who completely disagree with one another, are saying it’s simple.


    What does this massacre say about human nature? Not a lot, really. What it does say that when power is consistently channeled outside the normal, civil, legal structures of society, it empowers lawlessness and violence, and gives it cover; and if that state of affairs continues, practitioners of naive violence will teach each other to become professionals.

    That’s a general principle. We learn to live in the societies we create. We can learn to be decent, caring, law-abiding citizens who feel a sense of personal responsibility for the overall good of our society. We can also learn to be predatory thugs and murderers. Both options fall within the range of human nature. We’re a notoriously adaptable species.

  29. Such interesting responses. And so typically American: legalize! You know why? Because for all the boo-hooing over this and the other insane turf slaughters – none of the boo-hooers who use drugs want to stop getting high. So they point to the govt’s war on drugs. The govt’s to blame; not me. Go ahead, legalize. In six months the same crowd will be bitching about the gov’t/corporate control of their now-legal drugs. Then it’ll be Hello, black market. My advice: Stop using. Stop being a market.
    Vodka excluded.

    1. It’s not based on a hedonistic impulse. I would venture that most proponents of drug legalization do not use the drugs they propose legalizing.

      It is rather based on an understanding of economics and human nature, and an objective examination of history.

      Prohibition fails, because humans do not like to be told what to do without consent.

      Oh, and by the way: “Vodka excluded?” So not only are you a fool, you’re also a flagrant hypocrite, and a consumer of one of the worst of all substances? Get the fuck off the board…

    2. One fatal flaw in your argument: The Taliban, being Islamists, effectively eliminated all opium. The US invaded, and within 2 years the country was producing all time record crops.

      It’s hardly worth pointing out though, because it is exactly this sort of mindless bravado that enflamed the passions of the Nazis, the Soviets, and most of the other “great terrors” of history – most of whom, on an individual level were acting on a sense of righteous vengeance based on the propaganda their leaders had fed them.

      You, my friend, have been herded like a head cattle to your position.

      1. I would say nearly 90% of the commenters are for the legalization of drugs. I’m not, except for pot. So who’s in a herd? mooo.

        Second, your inability to catch an ironic coda – Vodka excluded – speaks to a sophistication level of, say, a 15-year-old. Which makes much of your gibberish about the Nazis, Soviets and other great terrors understandable.

        1. I support your commenting but not your point and I commend your ability to side-step that near-invocation of Godwin’s.

          My main issue with your point is its reliance on the premise that a ‘black-market’ would arise in association with a legalized regulated market for now illicit drugs such as cocaine. That is likely true, there exist black-markets for tobacco and alcohol. However, they do not have the same rates of violent crime as is associated with the higher-margin, higher-risk trade of cocaine or heroin. See, for an exposition of the illegal tobacco trade in Australia; rates of violent crime attributable to those involved in the trade do not exceed the background rate of such crimes. I’ll of course accept all the difficulties with collecting those statistics, but not to the extent that I’ll accept that illegal cigarette vendors are responsible for as much violent crime as the Zetas or even their most conservative commercial competitors. So as far as the inevitable black-market arising, which diverts profits from Pfizer or whomever begins producing commercial cocaine, I’ll grant that their main crime would be tax-evasion (which is of course not victimless), but not that they would decapitate a ranch full of innocent hombres

          The second, possibly more important point, is that you underestimate the Zeta membership if you believe they are not criminally versatile. A boingboing article currently on the front-page ( ) discusses the nature of psychopathy, and the psychological correlates of this behavior are not induced by the specific incentives. Such an individual as cut off the heads of those ranchers, would exist regardless of the legality of cocaine in Baltimore, and they would tend to commit violent crime even for very small profit, in fact even in the absence of an economic imperative.

          Vodka excluded.

  30. As with most problems in the world, I believe the only real solution is education.

    How many schools could we build across Central and South America using the funds we use to fuel our war on drugs?

    Go to any inner city where people live in poverty and you’ll see schools that are grossly neglected and completely underfunded. It’s not a coincidence.

    All enlighteneflourishingishing societies have one thing in common; the women have been educated. Educating women empowers them, giving them a weapon against the corruption of men. It’s something that they will pass down to their children as well.

    Unfortunately, we are becoming a society that seems to think you have to earn the right to an education. We’ve decided it’s perfectly reasonable to jail black women who try to find ways around the system and enroll their kids in better school districts even though they don’t reside there.

    Money is spent on make-believe walls and political campaigns instead of schools, allowing the rich to exploit the poor for profit. We love our cheap labor and as long as the violence poverty causes doesn’t reach our steps, we live happily in ignorance.

  31. Because no matter what policy they’re espousing, there are always politicians who can gain support by saying that it’s a simple problem with simple solutions. Don’t believe me? Read back up this thread and note how many commenters, including ones who completely disagree with one another, are saying it’s simple.

    Simplicity is not the explanation. “Its a complicated problem” doesn’t play in sound bites, but the novelty of political figures saying “decriminalize and take away the Zetas income stream” is because fear and judgement sells, not because simple sells.

  32. ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away.
    legalizing those hard drugs is not going to make the problem go away (instead giant corporations will take over the flow and probably use similar methods. they are talking about lots of money!)

    i wish there was a simple solution but there isnt.

    i think the suggestion for more education (spending the money going to the war on drugs on schooling) would be a great first step.

    1. You only drink fair trade coffee, right?

      In a regulated and open system, aware consumers have all the power to influence how products are made – they are the ones with the cash.

      The problem in an illegal/underregulated system is that there is no way to use that power to control things like the circumstances of the farmers who grow the plants or the pesticides/pollutants used in manufacture.

      The solution is simple.

      Legalize to ensure the market can be sufficiently regulated from farm to point of sale, and then only buy fair trade goods.

  33. The violence in the drug cartels increased drastically when Calderon took office and decided he was going to crack down hard on the cartels.
    U.S. department officials saw that they had an ally in the “war on drugs” and congress passed the Merida Initiative.

    funding to help Calderon fight his war against the cartels.

    Here is a voting record for the Merida Initiative

    looks like 86% of the democrats voted for this monstrosity of a bill.

    compared to 54% republicans voting for it.

    The republicans liberals love to hate Michelle Bachmann voted against it.

  34. Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that drugs are legalized and competition drives prices down to the point that the gang’s profits are greatly reduced. The gangs will still exist, and will then find other sources of income. The men who decapitated these farm workers will still exist, and there is a good chance that they will commit further atrocities. It seems unlikely that they will suddenly become good people and stop killing. So it seems that the issue is not really about drugs, it’s about the men that did this crime: they must be stopped. Legalizing drugs will not stop them, they are psychopaths who just happen to currently make a living producing drugs. And if the governments of these countries are not stopping these thugs, then who will? There are situations where the use of military force is a good idea. How many more innocent people will get slaughtered before these men are stopped (imprisoned or killed)?

    1. “The gangs will still exist, and will then find other sources of income.”

      Like what? Selling coffee beans?

      It costs money to run a gang; every month, every day, and every hour. If you don’t find a similarly lucrative trade with very low barriers to entry, there are going to be layoffs. Couple that with a simultaneously coordinated offensive to dismantle violent gangs and you can very realistically eliminate this cycle of violence.

      As for the individuals you portray as helplessly murderous, the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Experiment are enough proof that anybody can be driven to do horrible things under certain circumstances.

      1. hmm Destronok, I feel 100% confident that under no circumstance would I cut 27 people’s heads off. Your assertion that anyone could commit such an act is overboard. Any person who could participate in such a thing is a profoundly depraved psychopath, not some basically decent guy who just happened to fall in with the wrong crowd. The Stanford Experiment showed that in certain situations many people will tend to become abusive, but in no way did it show that most people are capable of the horrifying violence seen here. As for Milgram’s experiment, there’s a bit of difference between giving people non-lethal electric shocks and chopping their heads off, wouldn’t you say? Both experiments were academic and are not applicable to this level of violence. On your other point, I doubt the gangs will sell coffee beans if drugs are legalized! They’re probably more likely to sell sex slaves and military weapons, set up racketeering and extortion schemes, commit fraud, counterfeit money, kidnap and ransom people, etc. I’m not saying that legalizing drugs is a bad idea, just that it won’t stop these gangs.

        1. Anon #94:

          They are called ‘drugs gangs” for a reason, that’s where the lion’s share of their $$$ comes from, and without the $$$, nobody will bear arms and fight for them.

          They would die from lack of fuel, eventually – legalization would cut off their funding, and there’d be no more need for killing other gangs…after all, that’s what happened when alcohol prohibition was lifted in the USA.

          But it certainly is NOT the “only answer”, and the killers here ought to be hunted down and put away to do hard labour for life.

          And there are people trying to do just that, even as I type this:

          May their hunting be successful!

        2. “Any person who could participate in such a thing is a profoundly depraved psychopath”

          Psychopathy is a very specific personality disorder that effects a certain percentage of the human population. You need to reacquaint yourself with the results of the Standford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Experiment.

          At Stanford, it only took six days for individuals who exhibited no psychological problems (they were screened prior) to descend into rampant abuse of the inmates (prisoners were forced to defecate on themselves). The experiment was stopped, because had it continued, chances are people were going to start killing each other.

          In the Milgram Experiment, the subjects could hear the agonizing screams of the people they were led to believe they were shocking, and yet they continued. All it took were simple phrases like “the experiment has to continue”.

          The Milgram Experiment was conducted in the wake of WWII to specifically understand the mindset of those who carried out the Holocaust. What was revealed is most people can be led to murder despite their own moral beliefs.

          As for sex slaves replacing the drug trade, I can’t imagine it being even close to the lucrative profit margins associated with illegal drugs like cocaine.

          Military weapons in the South American jungle? It’s at best a far-fetched scenario.

          The only thing that’s keeping these gangs as powerful as they are is the illegal drug trade, and the most realistic way to destroy them is economic warfare in the form of legalization and regulation.

          1. I see the point both of you are making with regards to the drug trade being the primary source of the gang’s economic wherewithal, allowing them the high degree of power they have. Other criminal enterprises would generally not be as lucrative, so the gangs would shrink in size if they lost control of the drug trade. The more clever gang-members would find other schemes to fill their pockets, the ultra-violent would hire themselves out to other organizations (like Bechtel or Chevron, police or military perhaps?) The power of the gangs would diffuse into society were it would be less obvious, more insidiously woven-in (like it is in the post-prohibition US). Less news-worthy atrocities would be committed by the same people, but the world wouldn’t often hear about it.

            As for the experiments I’m still not convinced. I think that there is a limit to the level of abusiveness/ violence that any sane human will engage in under any circumstance, lines that will not be crossed by most people. I think the experiments draw conclusions that are too far outside the parameters of the experiments to be valid. There is a huge difference between proceeding after hearing people holler in pain (or a simulated pain response)and cutting their heads off. If someone forced a fellow-test-subject to poop on me I would definitely give them a bloody nose after it was over, but that level of abuse/ violent response is in a totally different realm than what happened in Guatemala.

          2. The “Stanford Prison Experiment” has been widely criticized as to its method, and the conclusions that can be drawn from it. One thing you have to remember is that the participants were people who at the outset agreed to act in roles in which they might have act as oppressors their fellow students. I think that randomly selected people would think twice before agreeing to this. For more about this maybe check out the find blog/podcast

  35. This is beyond words….this gang will infiltrate into bordering countries to hide out.

  36. There is some 1% of population, that can commit violent crime cold blooded. With prohibition, trade of illegal substances will make these people very rich and powerful. Opiate trade is one reason for the prolonged war in Afghanistan. South-America is full of armed political and criminal gangs, that finance themselves with illegal trade. There are not big scale criminal gangs in those countries, that can not grow huge amounts of illegal drugs with global demand(except the psychopats in the political parties). These gangs make the demand for military weapons too. Slave trade is mostly consequence of the prohibition on prostitution. The demand for prostitution can be mostly met with voluntary prostitution. Most customers want to visit in well organiced legal brothel, like they want to visit in pharmacist store rather than local crack pusher. Human trafficing for cheap labour is mostly consequence on restriction of labour movent, social welfare gap and protectionist trade policies between countries. If these unneccessary profits are removed from the drug gangs to leagal providers, then the drug gangs would not have such a good organizations and power over society. In the alcohol prohibition, one of the worst consequence was the corruption of the politicians and byrocrats, so is the drug industry corrupting the law makers and keepers. The psychopaths will remain the problm, and can have income in the illegal activity, that has no voluntary alternative, such as robbery, murder and kidnapping. For these we can only try to protect ourselves as good as we can, and not to provide the psychopats any more money to build up their organization and power.

  37. Kudos for how you handled the photos of the carnage. Presenting the images mosaic’ed with the option of removal (which I passed on) seems to be the best way to go with this….

  38. The USA could stop these cartel wars tomorrow by legalising drugs.
    If there were no contraband, there would be no profits.

    But its more important for the USA to keep locking Americans into cages for having harmed no one but the government’s chosen drug providers.

  39. There seems to be a debate as to weather legalizing drugs is the best way to combat Los Zetas.

    This is putting the cart before the horse. Los Zetas are a symptom of the drug trade, not it’s cause. They did not just coagulate together with the vague mission of committing crimes and then settle on selling drugs just because it was the best option. The American economic demand for drugs brought these men together as an enterprise.

    Some of you folks are pointing out that this is the work of violent people who are perhaps psychopaths. The problem is not that there are violent people in Guatemala. There are violent people all over the world. The problem is that we have a drug economy that is providing an incentive for people to be violent on a large and organized scale.

    You can arrest every single member of Los Zetas, but as long as that incentive exists people will rise up to fill the need. Before Los Zetas, it was the Sinaloa Cartel, and before them somebody else.

    Watever, I guess its easier to blame it on those crazy psychopathic South Americans than to admit our own drug policy is directly causing this.

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