A suspected Zetas cartel boss wanted in the US was arrested following a firefight in Guatemala, according to reports released on Friday. In a statement issued by Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, Jairo Orellana Morales was captured in Zacapa, an eastern province on the border of the Rio Grande de Zacapa, after a shootout with federal police that killed one officer and two men believed to be bodyguards of the alleged Zetas cartel leader.
According to Lopez Bonilla, suspected cartel boss Orellana Morales was arrested on Thursday, along with seven accomplices. After his arrest, Orellana Morales was flown to Guatemala City where he was shown to the press wearing khakis and no shirt, with bruises on his face.
In 2013, the US imposed financial sanctions against the alleged Zetas cartel leader under the Kingpin Act, which freezes his assets and makes it illegal for any US citizen to conduct a business transaction of any sort with the man.
At the time, the US government described Jairo Orellana Morales as "a violent drug trafficker linked to the Zetas cartel."
Orellana Morales is the son-in-law of Waldemar Lorenzana Lima, a rancher who was accused of drug trafficking and extradited to the US back in March. Allegedly, Waldemar Lorenzana Lima worked with the Sinaloa cartel to smuggle cocaine from Colombia through Guatemala and on to the United States.
The capture of the suspected Zetas cartel leader on Thursday came right on the heels of a bloody firefight that occurred last Sunday in the Mexican border town of Reynosa, which culminated in the death of another key member of the Zetas cartel: Galindo Mellado Cruz. The Zetas were originally a hit squad for the larger Gulf cartel, and were comprised mostly of former members of the Mexican Army and special forces groups. The Zetas cartel broke off their association with the Gulf cartel in 2010, and the two gangs have been at war ever since.
Jairo Orellana Morales is also known as "El Pelon" or the "bald one". Following his first hearing in Guatemala City, he faces extradition to the United States.
In 2012, "El Pelon" narrowly missed an assassination attempt when a hit squad disguised as police officers attacked a health clinic in the capital city, killing seven men but missing the alleged cartel leader.
Guatemala, a small Central American nation of roughly 15 million people, is one of the most violent countries in the world. Their government, like many in the Central American region, is in a continuous battle to somehow constrict the influence of powerful drug gangs like the Zetas cartel.