Guatemala's human smuggling network is big business for 'coyotes'

Article author: 
Richard Pollock
Article publisher: 
Washington Examiner
Article date: 
21 August 2014
Article category: 
National News
Article Body: 

Guatemala’s shadowy human smuggling network is run by a highly sophisticated organization that more closely resembles a corporation with a profit-sharing program than a ragtag band of criminals.

"Coyotes" — the term often used to describe human smugglers — own first-class Guatemalan hotels, run a sales force with members called “hooks,” and like other businesses, adjust prices up or down depending on competition. They even can provide VIP bus service to the U.S. border.

Coyotes credit President Obama for giving them a new “business model” that allows them to transport unaccompanied minors to the U.S. border with Mexico, then safely turn around and pocket big profits...

Based on a two-and-a-half-hour interview with Juan [a coyote chieftain], dozens of present and former government officials and parents who have used coyotes, it is clear that the human smuggling business resembles, in some respects, legal enterprises like McDonald’s and Mazda.

The key reason is the lure of profits, but it also helps that this voluntary form of hiding and transporting people is legal in this Central American country.

Under pressure from the Obama administration, members of Guatemala's Congress have proposed bills that would outlaw human smuggling, but none has passed.

Many of the illegal immigrants now arriving in the United States hail from Guatemala, which shares a 540-mile border with Mexico and 132 points of entry.

Juan lives in Soloma, a municipality of Huehuetenango that he described as the center of Guatemala’s coyote business.

“There’s a concentration of coyotes in Soloma,” he said. “Seventy percent of Soloma is involved in this business. Not all necessarily coyotes, but indirectly.”...

He said there are 5,000 coyote “bosses” in Guatemala...

“They are in every village, every municipality and every district [province] of the country,” Juan said....

Juan charges $5,600 per adult and $3,500 for each child he transports. He is able to pocket about 10 percent of the charge. Customers can and do compare prices...

“Mexican immigration works for us. The federal police works for us. The PGR, the Mexican prosecutors, work for us. The federal judicial police work for us. The municipal police works for us,” he said.

Juan said he makes between 30 and 35 round-trips every year, each lasting only four days...

“We have private buses contracted by us, [a] first-class bus,” he told the Examiner. “We call up. We get a bus whenever we want, for [a] period, as long as we pay.”...

His annual take-home pay can be as low as $210,000 or as high as $420,000. That's tax-free, in U.S. dollars...