US extends sanctions on Guatemalan drug trafficking syndicate

OFAC, Office of Foreign Assets Control, United States, Los Pochos, Guatemalan drug trafficking organization

In a persistent battle against the relentless scourge of drug trafficking, the United States has once again extended sanctions against Los Pochos, a notorious Guatemalan drug trafficking organization. Despite recent changes in leadership, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) reaffirmed its commitment to disrupt the illicit operations of this nefarious group.

Originally sanctioned in 2019 for its significant contributions to the global drug trade, Los Pochos has remained a focal point for law enforcement agencies combating narcotics trafficking. The latest renewal of sanctions underscores the continuous threat posed by Los Pochos and the necessity for sustained efforts to dismantle their criminal activities.

According to Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) , Los Pochos continues to play a pivotal role in the trafficking of cocaine, supplying substantial quantities to various networks operating in Guatemala and Mexico. These networks leverage established transportation routes to funnel drugs into US markets, perpetuating the cycle of addiction and violence. Furthermore, Los Pochos’ reliance on corrupt public officials further facilitates their illicit operations, with allegations of collusion with members of law enforcement, military personnel, prosecutors, and other authorities.

In a targeted effort to disrupt Los Pochos’ operations, OFAC has identified three key members and four affiliated companies operating within Guatemala. Among the designated individuals are Juan Jose Morales Cifuentes, Isel Aneli Suñiga Morfin, and Erick Manuel Ochoa Villagran. Additionally, OFAC has pinpointed four entities owned or controlled by Los Pochos members: Importadora Jireh, Construhogar, WIV Sociedad Anonima, and Condado Real.

Juan Jose Morales Cifuentes, identified as a leader of Los Pochos since 2019, is alleged to be a prominent cocaine distributor and transportation coordinator with ties to the notorious Sinaloa Cartel. Notably, Morales Cifuentes is the son-in-law of the late narcotics trafficker and former mayor, Erik Salvador Suñiga Rodriguez. Isel Aneli Suñiga Morfin, Rodriguez’s eldest daughter and a former contestant in the Guatemalan Miss Universe pageant, is suspected of holding a leadership position within Los Pochos. Erick Manuel Ochoa Villagran, another key figure based in Guatemala, is believed to oversee the storage of cocaine shipments for the organization.

The renewal of sanctions mandates the freezing of any property or interests held by designated individuals and entities within the United States or controlled by U.S. persons, requiring them to be reported to OFAC. Additionally, entities owned, directly or indirectly, by blocked persons to the extent of 50 percent or more are subject to these sanctions.

Originally sanctioned under the Kingpin Act in 2019, Los Pochos’ involvement in trafficking cocaine from Guatemala through Mexico into the United States has drawn heightened attention from law enforcement agencies. The group’s purported connections to the Sinaloa Cartel, renowned for its global drug trafficking operations, have further solidified its status as a significant threat to regional and international security.

Brian E. Nelson, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, reiterated the Treasury’s commitment to working in tandem with law enforcement partners to dismantle facilitation networks and disrupt the flow of illicit drugs. This latest extension of sanctions is part of a comprehensive government strategy aimed at combatting the global threat of drug trafficking, which claims over 100,000 American lives annually and leads to countless non-fatal overdoses.

As the United States reaffirms its resolve to combat drug trafficking, the extension of sanctions against Los Pochos sends a clear message that no organization, regardless of changes in leadership, will evade accountability for perpetuating the flow of illegal drugs into the country. By targeting Los Pochos and other criminal networks, law enforcement agencies continue to demonstrate their unwavering commitment to safeguarding communities and combating the devastating effects of drug addiction and violence.


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