Mexico-Guatemala: The Invisible, Disturbing Border

By Dialogo
April 26, 2011

This border has always been that way. Smuggling has always existed, sometimes are the Mexicans other times are the Guatemalans. Authorities in both countries are corrupt and always demand something from the merchants. In these times of drug traffickers the situation has become tenser since they are always accompanied with violence. Now, I think the journalist exaggerated that Central America is one of the most violent regions in the world. Where does that come from? Who do we compare it to? They never talk about the benefits of a region that is rich in many things, of course that does not sell. Also it is the bulk of the population that is committed to walking hunchbacked for life to benefit the rest. Much of the violence has been imported from elsewhere, including European countries, mainly Spain. A few days ago I was surfing the Internet to look for information about my country’s (Guatemala) borders with Mexico, and I found there is a racist culture with violent tendencies toward us, Guatemalans especially. I would like to remind the journalist that wrote this article that, as the story goes, a portion of Mexico was part of Guatemala and that, when it comes down to it, we are all brothers in this world even if we do not share physical similarities, culture, education and many other things I could mention, we deserve respect.
With the equivalent of a dollar and without any official documents, the border between Mexico and Guatemala can be crossed without any problem, a worrying fact in view of the trafficking of drugs and undocumented migrants and the fear of terrorist infiltration.

On any ordinary day, smuggling proceeds at a frenetic pace at the so-called ‘Lemon Crossing’ (Paso Limón), one of the westernmost clandestine border crossing points, which links Ciudad Hidalgo (Mexico) and Tecún Umán (Guatemala) across the Suchiate River.

On the Mexican side, men, women, and children load food, toilet paper, clothing, and other basic supplies onto rafts made from two tractor tires, which carry them to the other side of the river in exchange for ten Mexican pesos (eighty U.S. cents).

They explain that all these items are cheaper in Mexico than in Guatemala, where they are sold as far away as the capital, 355 km distant.

From Central America come vegetables, flowers, and dozens of migrants headed for the United States every day.

From Paso Limón, another illegal crossing point can be seen, from which fuel is trafficked from Mexico to its neighbor. A few kilometers further on is an area known as Las Plataneras (‘The Banana Trees’), where few dare to tread.

“Drugs, arms, everything passes through there. Last week, there was a quarrel there, and three men died in the firefight,” affirmed Nelson Ruiz, one of the ferrymen, speaking to AFP during a break.

With the Mexican government concentrated on curbing drug-trafficking violence in the north, the United States is also alarmed by the lawless locations in the south.

The State Department has reported that up to 80% of drugs arriving in the United States pass through Central America, while Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has warned of possible terrorist penetration along the porous Guatemalan-Mexican border.

But the cartels’ money and criminal activities also reach Central America, considered one of the world’s most violent regions.

According to the Guatemalan government, the Mexican Los Zetas cartel already controls a vast area in the northern part of the country, where the government had to impose a state of emergency in December.

At the clandestine border crossing on the Suchiate, there was no sign of the authorities, but Ruiz, the ferryman, explained that certain norms and abuses exist behind the apparent anarchy.

“Soldiers come every day. They don’t say anything to us about taking all this to Guatemala, but they don’t allow us to bring anything over from there. Those military personnel sometimes take things from us,” the ferryman, or ‘waiter,’ as they are called on this border, explained.

The situation is worse when police officers are the ones who show up, Ruiz affirmed. “They come at night, in civilian clothes, and tell us that what we’re doing is illegal, and they demand up to 3,000 pesos (around 250 dollars) from us.”

“And they have a point,” he admitted, “we deal with it as if it was paying taxes. Only that with this system, you risk them taking everything away from you,” he specified.

In the regions of southern Mexico, trucks with cartel stickers do not travel the roads with impunity, nor do the firefights break out that have left thousands dead in the northern part of the country. What is disturbing about this border is what is not seen.



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