HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala (AP) — Guatemalan authorities arrested more than a dozen alleged members of a migrant smuggling network near the shared border with Mexico early Tuesday, including four sought by the United States in connection with the death of a migrant in Texas in 2021.
The arrests came a month after 53 migrants, including 21 Guatemalans, died in a failed smuggling attempt when they were abandoned inside a sweltering trailer in San Antonio, Texas. There was no indication those arrested Tuesday were involved in the San Antonio tragedy.
The extradition of alleged migrant smugglers known as “coyotes” has been rare and these would be the first known cases in Guatemala of smugglers allegedly pursued for the death of a migrant in the United States.
Prosecutions of migrant smugglers in Guatemala have proven exceedingly difficult because migrants are almost never willing to identify or testify against their smugglers. In some cases they hope for another chance to migrate to the United States with the smuggler’s help and in others they are afraid of the smugglers or their organized crime connections.
The arrests come at a time of heightened tensions between Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei and Washington.
The Biden administration has been outspoken in its criticism of perceived backsliding on corruption prosecutions. The U.S. government sanctioned Guatemala’s Attorney General Consuelo Porras, alleging she was an obstacle to anti-corruption work and was now pursuing judges and prosecutors who had worked on corruption cases.
It was the Attorney General’s Office backed by National Police that carried out the raids near the northern town of Huehuetenango at dawn Tuesday.
Raids were carried out in four provinces across Guatemala.
At a mountain ranch in Huehuetenango far from the nearest paved road, the group’s alleged leader was arrested. Helicopters flew over the site that contained at least a dozen wooden homes and a number of vehicles. Various guns were also seized.
Stuardo Campo, Guatemala’s prosecutor for crimes against migrants, said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had supported the operation. Guatemalan authorities had documented 11 operations by the smuggling network to move migrants since last October, but Campo did not say how many migrants were smuggled.
He also said they had traced $2 million in smuggling proceeds to the group since 2019.
The four people arrested at the request of U.S. authorities are allegedly linked to the death of Marta Raymundo Corio who was found dead near Odessa, Texas after being smuggled through Mexico in early 2021.
Campo said the woman had died in a warehouse in Texas due to a lack of food and water and her relatives had requested the help of authorities in determining what had happened.