Reporting from Guatemala City, Danilo Valladares of the Inter-Press Service (IPS) notes that there will be one more barrier for Guatemalan immigrants in their trek to the United States. In addition to dodging dangerous drug traffickers and immigration officials, the latest obstacle is emerging: a wall between Guatemala and Mexico.
According to the head of customs for Mexico's tax administration, Raul Diaz, the Mexican border state of Chiapas is constructing a wall along the country's southern border with Guatemala, along the river Suchiate which divides the countries. Diaz says the purpose of the wall is to prevent the passage of contraband, but admits, "It could also prevent the free passage of illegal immigrants."
According to Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH), 500,000 people from Central America cross into Mexico illegally every year -- the vast majority of them attempting to reach the United States. In addition, smugglers reportedly use the Suchiate River to move goods across the international border without paying duty taxes.
Just as Mexican authorities have opposed more strict border enforcement and the construction of a border fence along the U.S. border with their country, Mexico is now receiving a great deal of criticism from Guatemalan officials. According to IPS, Guatemalan civil and government organizations have called the move "senseless," saying a border fence will not prevent undocumented migrants from crossing the border on their way north.
"We are watching the Mexican government's initiative with concern because the migrants are in a situation of highest vulnerability, as demonstrated by the massacre in Tamaulipas, where five Guatemalans died," Erick Maldonado, executive secretary of Guatemala's National Council on Migrants, told IPS.
Similar to areas surrounding America's southern border with Mexico, the Guatemalan-Mexico border region is wrought with crime, including lawless drug cartels' kidnapping and exploitation of migrants. On Aug. 23, 72 migrants heading north from Guatemala were brutally murdered in San Fernando, a town on the Mexican side of the border. Authorities presume the massacre was carried out by a well-known drug cartel. In addition, a total of 9,758 kidnappings of migrants were reported in Mexico from Sept. 2008 to Feb. 2009, according to the CNDH.
Putting up a wall on the Guatemala-Mexico border "is going to make the migrants' situation worse, because to meet their needs they are always going to find blind points where there are no migration or security controls, which implies greater risks," said Maldonado.
Despite eyewitness reports of Mexican border fence construction having commenced -- including the mayor of the western Guatemalan municipality of Ayutla -- Guatemalan authorities say the Mexican government has yet to comment on the project.
In recent years, the United States government has worked cooperatively with Mexico in attempts to crack down on the flow of drugs into North America. Under the Bush administration signed on to the "Merida Initiative" in 2007. The State Department calls the Initiative a demonstration of “the United States’ commitment to partner with governments in Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic to confront criminal organizations whose actions plague the region and spill over into the United States."
In 2007, Bush pledged $1.4 billion in aid aimed at improving Mexican and Central American military and police security despite reports of widespread corruption and border-area incursions. In 2008, Congress voted to allocate an additional $1.5 billion to the Merida program despite dubious results. Under President Obama's administration, the Merida Initiative has ballooned. Introducing a "new phase" of the program, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained:
We are expanding the Mérida Initiative beyond what it was traditionally considered to be, because it is not just about security. Yes, that is paramount, but it is also about institution building. It is about reaching out to and including communities and civil society, and working together to spur social and economic development.
In 2010 alone, the United States has given $450 million to Mexico, with an additional $100 million requested from Congress to be sent to Central America, in order to “provide equipment and training to support law enforcement operations and technical assistance for long-term reform and oversight of security agencies,” says the State Department.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has halted the construction of a fence on America's own southern border and the U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to prevent the adoption of localized border state laws attempting to curb the flow of illegal immigrants and drug-related violence.
While the Obama administration condemns the efforts of Arizonans and the calls from many Americans who insist on constructing a fence on the country's southern border, will the U.S. government continue to funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to Mexico as they build their own border defenses?