Guatemala's most wanted suspected drug lord was captured on Wednesday in a joint operation involving the government and the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
Juan Ortiz Lopez, who is wanted in Florida on cocaine trafficking charges, was arrested at a house in the western city of Quetzaltenango along with two suspected accomplices. Carlos Menocal, Guatemala's interior minister, said Ortiz had been under surveillance for seven days.
"This is a big fish and we are satisfied with his capture. It's a great achievement by this government," Menocal said. The arrests came six months after the capture of one of Ortiz's reputed top lieutenants in the same investigation, which also involved the FBI and other US agencies.
Ortiz is charged in Florida with two counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He could face up to life in prison if convicted. The US attorney Robert O'Neill said: "For over a decade, Ortiz-Lopez's drug organisation received multi-ton cocaine shipments in Guatemala, which would then be transported through Mexico to the United States, where the cocaine would be further distributed."
The DEA considered Ortiz to be the highest-ranking drug trafficker in Guatemala, and the US justice department had designated him a "consolidated priority target", O'Neill said.
Ortiz's alleged lieutenant Mauro Ramirez Barrios is charged in Florida with smuggling 3.7 tons (3,335kg) of cocaine since 2007. He was arrested in the southern Guatemalan town of San Bernardino in October, two weeks after he escaped police during a shootout at a shopping centre in which two officers died.
Ramirez allegedly hired fishermen to smuggle drugs through Mexico and was the leader of one of Ortiz's principal maritime transportation organisations, according to the US.