This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Other Border

With so much focus on the US-Mexico border, it is easy to forget about Mexico’s border with Guatemala. It is one that in the coming months and years will likely become a concern and a serious problem if Mexico is forced to fight a two-front war against organized crime.

Two problematic areas have been established.

One is in southern Guatemala where the Suchiate river largely defines the Guatemala-Mexico border. This is an illegal immigrant corridor through which hundreds of thousands of undocumented Central Americans pass into the Mexican state of Chiapas.

And it is not just Latinos. On 3 April, six adult male Iraqis were apprehended after having crossed the Suchiate river on a raft holding falsified Dutch and Greek passports purchased in Guatemala. A total of 29 Iraquis were arrested in Chiapas in 2007.

Those who help Central Americans and other cross Mexico’s two borders are called “polleros” or sometimes “coyotes”. From 2000 to 2005, some 15,000 polleros were arrested in Mexico, and according to the Mexican National Migration Institute, 3,739 were prosecuted. The gap between arrests and prosecutions indicates a high level of complicity between polleros and the authorities tasked with stopping them.

A similar high number of arrests and low number of prosecutions continues through today, indicating the reports published concerning arrests of polleros or illegal migrants should be taken lightly as it is likely arresting officers will take a bribe. This system if catch and release then has served to enrich corrupt police officers more than it has to stop illegal border crossings into Mexico.

The other problematic area is in northern Guatemala in the department of Peten, where a largely lawless border area facilitates the ongoing construction of clandestine airstrips and the resulting movement of illicit cargo across the border into Mexico. It is an ideal smuggling route as there is relatively little government presence in the Peten and even less on the border.

Five principle border crossing routes have been identified by Guatemalan authorities: Pipiles, Santa Rosita, Bonanza, crossing into Chiapas, and El Repasto and El Sacrificio crossing into Campeche state. Near these border crossings in Guatemala are any number of landing strips, where men connected with Mexican trucking companies arrive at prescheduled times to pick up the cargo and transport to distribution centers further inside Mexico.

The Guatemalan government believes the Sinaloa Federation, the Gulf Cartel, and the Juarez Cartel all have agents working in the Peten region to move drugs into Mexico. These groups and others have worked in the Peten with near impunity for nearly a decade. So far, the Guatemalan government is powerless to stop them and help from the United States and Mexico is not on the horizon.

Together, both of these corridors represent the number one reason why Guatemala is a magnet for drug trafficking and illegal immigration. The combined result is more than the state of Chiapas, historically one of the most poor Mexican states, can handle.

With all eyes fixated to the north where President Calderón has focused the might of the Mexican military to combat organized crime, there is little help coming from the federal level to assist with what is clearly another major national problem in Mexico. It is one that has a clear spillover effect in the United States, the ultimate destination of both the drugs and humans that pass from Central America across Mexico’s other border to ultimately arrive on the northern shores of the Rio Grande.

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