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Mexico - Guatemala Relations

Mexico's shared border with Guatemala has led to tensions between the countries. Because of the disparity between the two countries in economic levels and power, some critics draw parallels to United States-Mexican relations. Traditionally, Guatemalans have crossed the border seasonally to work in the coffee fields of southern Mexico. During the early 1980s, however, a military campaign against indigenous Mayan peasants in northern Guatemala forced an exodus of refugees, who crossed the Mexican border to get away from the violent displacement of their communities. From 1982 to 1993, more than 40,000 Maya lived in refugee camps along the southern border of Mexico, creating a problem for local authorities. The Mexican government, at both the national and local levels, was unprepared and unwilling to support such mass immigration into its territory.

The emergence of the Zapatista guerrilla movement and alleged drug trafficking in the region exacerbated the situation. The Mexican government was criticized for its neglect and selectiveness regarding political asylum issues. Repatriation agreements between the Guatemalan government and organized refugee groups were reached during 1992, providing for the return of these groups to their country. Repatriation proceeded slowly since then.

The Inter-American Highway begins at the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo and runs through Monterrey and Mexico City, where it turns southeastward toward Oaxaca and then directly eastward into Chiapas and northwestern Guatemala. Mexico has three major federal high- ways: the the Pacific Coast Highway, extends from Tijuana to Tapachula on the Guatemalan border.

Central American border residents have an old tradition of entering Mexico for commercial, economic, and social purposes. Mexico is increasingly relying on Guatemalan workers for its seasonal agriculture, with permits for approximately 40,000 Guatemalan temporary workers per year.103 In addition to agribusinesses, Central Americans work in the construction industry, in services such as domestic household workers, in informal activities including children selling candy on the streets, workers in the municipal trash dump, and in prostitution. Guatemalans and Belizeans are also able to enter Mexico as border residents, which allow them to stay within 100 kilometers north of the border in the states of Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Campeche without a tourist visa.

Mexico's southern border remains highly porous with illegal immigrants crossing from Guatemala into Chiapas on a daily basis. The poorest state in Mexico, Chiapas is plagued with economic problems that are further complicated by the rise of organized crime, a vulnerable border with Guatemala, and alleged human rights abuses of indigenous and migrant populations. Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, shares a 650 kilometer border with Guatemala. As the poorest Mexican state, Chiapas suffers from the second highest rate of malnutrition in the country, estimated to affect more than 40% of the population. Chiapas also has one of the largest and most diverse indigenous populations with approximately one million indigenous language speakers over the age of five, accounting for 27% of the state's population.

About one quarter of the population is of full or predominant Mayan descent, and in rural areas, many do not speak Spanish. The poverty affecting the marginalized lower classes - largely made up of indigenous groups - contributed to the Zapatista uprising in 1994 and the creation of other insurgent groups seeking political and economic autonomy. The increasing presence of Central American gangs known as "Maras," illegal immigration from Central America, and the rise of organized crime further burden this already strained state.

The Zetas and other organized crime groups involved in the trafficking of arms, drugs, and people, are seeking control of southern migratory routes. Migrants in Chiapas confront serious security threats on a daily basis. Trafficking networks or organized crime groups such as the Zetas or Maras often beat, rob, or kidnap migrants as they make their way north. A significant flow of Russian, Chinese, and Korean arms cross the southern border into Mexico from Guatemala and El Salvador.

Tapachula, a border town in southwestern Chiapas, is a principal point of entry for people crossing into Mexico from Guatemala. Those crossing legally tend to be seasonal local and regional laborers from Central America. According to Yzar, Immigrants detained after crossing the border illegally are mostly Guatemalan. The rest are either from Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, or from Cuba, Eritrea, Mali, Ethiopia, and occasionally from China, Russia, and Iraq.

INAMI officials reported seeing a decrease in the flow of migrants crossing the border into Tapachula following Hurricane Stan in 2005. The storm destroyed a significant part of the train track leading from Tapachula to the northern part of the state, making it more difficult for migrants to make their way north.

Some 400,000 migrants enter Mexico from the south each year, and according to rights organization Meso-American Migration Movement, as many as 20,000 of them were disappearing or dying on the trip through Mexico victims of organized crime, human traffickers and harsh conditions. Now travel on La Bestia, the dangerous cargo trains, is banned, and they are patrolled and raided. That route has been replaced with walking, perhaps interspersed with a few risky journeys on a bus or Kombi van. Migration control is now done through layers of checkpoints, on the main roads and lesser ones, some fixed, some mobile.

Mexican immigration and customs officials find it difficult to monitor the expansive border between Chiapas and Guatemala. there was little INAMI agents could do because they were not armed and, thus, not in a position to confront any possible aggressors. As of 2010 Aduanas (Mexican Customs) in only had 130 employees to patrol 11 points of entry over the 650 kilometer southern border. The majority of thes agents were located on the three main points of entry, Ciudad Hidalgo I and II and Talisman.

Ciudad Hidalgo I is largely a pedestrian crossing, though some passenger vehicles cross as well. This point consists of one bridge over the Suchiate River that separates the Mexican municipality of Suchiate from the Guatemalan border town of Tecun Uman. in Talisman, Chiapas, almost as many individuals cross the border illegally as legally. Immigration officials conjectured that individuals crossing illegally under the bridge were either visiting family members on the other side of border or engaging in informal commerce. It appeared the majority were carrying what appeared to be personal belongings rather than items of commerce.

The Mexican government has implemented different types of measures to manage its southern border and regulate illegal immigration. For instance, it implemented operations such as Sellamiento in 1998, Plan Sur in 2001, the Plan de Reordenamiento de la Frontera Sur in 2008, and the Programa de Apoyo a la Zona Fronteriza in 2013. Furthermore, the government has applied gradual militarization policies to secure the border. Mexicos National Migration Institute is responsible for Programa Frontera Sur. The Ministry of the Interior, in an internal report drawn up in late 2015, said the programs goal is to overcome common challenges related to migration and respect for human rights and to establish a more modern, efficient, prosperous and secure border.

The Chiapas Secretariat for the Southern Border (SFS) was formed in 2009 to deal solely with migrant issues while coordinating activities with all agencies that come into contact with migrants, including the SSP, the Attorney General's Office (PJE), the Department of Health, and INAMI, among others. The US State Department has agreed to provide $86m to help build new checkpoints, road blocks, naval bases and modernise inspection technologies along Mexicos southern border, which has 11 formal and 370 informal crossings. Mexicos efforts to improve security along its southern border include the construction of twelve permanent naval bases along its southern river borders and the development ofmultiple choke points in the region to counter illegal migration and drugtrafficking.

On 26 August 2015, the Facebook group Americans for Common Sense posted a photograph purportedly showing a fence built along the border between Mexico and Mexicos southern neighbor, Guatemala. The image was accompanied by a query about why its not racist for Mexico to build a fence to keep Guatemalan immigrants out of their country, but it presumably is for the United States to construct a similar obstruction to prevent Mexicans from crossing the border into the US.

There is no wall along the Mexico-Guatemala border. Most of the frontier consists of rain forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, or other natural barriers, and few of the sections passable by foot or automobile include any walls or even fences. Residents on both sides of the border circumvent the official border crossing by paying a few pesos to get pushed across the slowly flowing Suchiate River on makeshift inner-tube rafts.

The Pea Nieto administration identified the social, economic, political, and security factors related to migration, but it soon fell into contradictions. The government recognized that migration could only be regulated with a regional and integral perspective and not as a problem that could be solved with fences and policing.

A standoff between migrants and Mexican police continued 20 October 2018 as they settled on a bridge separating Guatemala and Mexico, with some clinging to the closed border gate crying "there are children here." The migrants broke through the fence, running into a wall of police in Mexico, whose government had promised the U.S. would confront the caravan. Mexican television footage showed hundreds of migrants streaming onto the bridge and being met on the other side by a line of Mexican police in riot gear. some migrants threw rocks and other objects at Mexican security forces, who used pepper spray to force the migrants to retreat. Mexico's government sought assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help process migrants claiming refugee status, which could help it to disperse the caravan.

The government of Mexico maintained permanent communication with the members of the caravan that reached the southern border, to whom the options to which they are entitled were explained. To those who have requested refuge, the competent Mexican authorities are providing care in an orderly manner and with full respect for the human rights of migrants and in compliance with national and international regulations on the matter. Also the government of Mexico, requested the intervention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to accompany this process. the Mexican authorities deployed on the southern border will continue to make the necessary efforts to inform the migrant population that wishes to enter Mexican territory of the procedures and rights, in order to ensure an orderly, regular and safe flow, respectful of their human rights.

A vulnerable border, the rise of organized crime, extreme poverty, and dissatisfaction of indigenous communities are problems that continue to impact the social and economic development of Chiapas, Mexico's poorest state, and neighboring Guatemala.

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Page last modified: 20-10-2018 16:58:19 ZULU