A state of emergency may soon be declared by the Guatemalan government in two municipalities bordering Mexico due to the proliferation of drug trafficking groups in the region.  Troops from the Guatemalan military have been dispatched to stabilize the area and stem the flow of heroin into their country.

The Ixchiguan and Tajumulco municipalities of Guatemala have been the site of bloody warfare between Mexican drug cartels and criminal gangs competing to control the drug trafficking routes in the area, leaving the residents caught in the crossfire.

“The situation there is critical. Last night there was a battle between two criminal groups and they attacked each other with rifles and grenades,” said army spokesman William Garcia.

The measure to initiate a state of emergency was announced on Thursday, and the nation’s congress has three days from the announcement to approve the emergency measures.  The proposed changes include tripling the number of troops (from 150 to 450) permitted to participate in the fight against the drug cartels, and allowing them to remain in the area for a minimum of 30 days.

“There are signs Mexican citizens are participating. Poppy is produced, harvested and cultivated here … it is (then) transported to Mexico where it is processed and then sent to the United States,” said Guatemala’s Interior Minister Francisco Rivas.

Because of heavy gunfire coming from the illegal gangs and drug cartels, law enforcement has not been able to enter the conflict area, leaving the citizens of the region left to fend for themselves.  Children throughout both municipalities have been kept home from school during the worst of the fighting as a result.

Mexico, who also shares a large border with the United States, is amidst a longstanding fight with drug cartels and corruption within both law enforcement and local governments.  The U.S. State Department considers Guatemala to be a “major transit” country for illegal drugs, many of which is believed to come from within Mexico.

It is estimated that as much as 400 metric tons of cocaine is smuggled through Guatemala each year, with much of it ultimately reaching markets in the United States.  Ineffective law enforcement institutions and a lack of regulation, particularly within border communities, has allowed the flow of drugs from within Mexico and other nations to continue unchecked for some time.