GUATEMALA CITY ( Associated Press) – When prosecutors raided the home of David Coronado Pérez in the Guatemalan community of Comitancillo near the border with Mexico in January, authorities found nearly 400,000 quetzals (about $51,000) in coins, nearly hundreds of slot machines and several Got late -Model vehicles, some bought with cash.
Arrested along with nine people, Coronado is accused of leading a structure of human traffickers, or “coyotes”. In the detention operation, authorities also seized more than half a million quetzals (close to $200,000) in cash, all proceeds from alleged payments to the organization for illegally transporting migrants to the United States.
Migrants to Guatemala can pay up to $15,000 per person to reach US territory, according to an investigation by local authorities, who are now trying to determine what smugglers do with the money. They get to better understand the criminal structures that are projected to receive hundreds of thousands of migrants. , dollars per year.
Authorities tracked down Coronado, who is still in prison and denies being a smuggler, in January 2021 after he allegedly helped smuggle 15 Guatemalans. , where they were killed along with four others, apparently by Mexican police officers. One of the dead was identified as the son of Coronado, who was believed to be the guide of the migrants.
The man in charge of the investigation in Guatemala that located Coronado’s involvement and that has begun to shed light on the finances of Guatemala’s “coyotes” is Stuardo Campo, head of the prosecutor’s office for crimes against migrants.
Last November, the field office and police broke up another structure that smuggled people into the United States, in Nahuala, in western Guatemala and one of the country’s poorest indigenous regions. About two million quetzals (over $250,000) in cash were seized from the group.
The group was already being investigated and at some point the authorities also became aware of the arrests in the United States.
The migrant was detained by the US Border Patrol and, in parallel, the traffickers tried to extort money from the family: they told them that he had died and made further demands for his body to be recovered. Later that person was deported.
And traffickers are always looking to take advantage of what they get. Regarding what the “coyotes” of the Nahuala group did with the money received, prosecutor Campo said, “Not only vehicles of the latest model were bought, but also a bus where they smuggled people.”
“When they buy new vehicles, they do it in cash,” he said. By law, a car dealer is required to report the transaction to the bank, which in turn must inform the authorities and thus initiate some investigation.
In December, a trailer crash in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas killed 55 migrants, including 40 Guatemalans, in what may serve as a sampling of the scale of migrant smuggling. No arrests have yet been made, but the Campo’s office continues to investigate.
One of the most recent investigations launched by the field prosecutor’s office relates to a tragedy that occurred in June, when smugglers abandoned a trailer outside of San Antonio, Texas, in the sweltering desert heat. Overall, 53 migrants died, including 21 Guatemalans.
In February, weeks after the arrest of Coronado and his group, the Guatemalan Congress reformed the country’s immigration law, toughening prison terms for migrant traffickers, increasing them from six to eight years in prison to 10 to 30 years. Interrupted.
The reform was aimed at deterring smugglers and the government of President Alejandro Giammattei, who has strained relations with Joe Biden’s US administration over corruption allegations, sought to portray itself as a partner with US authorities in combating migrant smuggling. can use it for.
Critics said at the time that there was no point in increasing prison sentences if those responsible rarely made it to trial.
In early August, Campos’ team went into the field again and clashed with another smuggling ring.
Police and prosecutors raided a Fina in northern Guatemala near the border with Mexico. Supported by helicopters, the agents made an inventory of older model vehicles (including two Jeeps), weapons, a swimming pool and stables, where they found a thoroughbred horse named Picasso and valued at approximately $100,000.
Felipe Diego Alonzo, 38, and the alleged ringleader of the structure, was arrested at the scene, although he assured that his wealth was the product of growing onions and occasionally selling cars. In this case, it was also the death of a migrant that attracted the attention of investigators, and Campos’ office received support from the US Department of Homeland Security.
The victim was Marta Raymundo Correo, who was found dead in early 2021 near Odessa, Texas. The migrant was allegedly smuggled through Alonzo’s network. Campo said the woman died after a grueling journey to a warehouse in Texas due to lack of food and water. Relatives asked the authorities for help in determining what happened to her.
Alonzo and three other members of the organization were taken into custody and await the conclusion of extradition proceedings to Texas, where they will stand trial for Corrio’s death.
Smuggling structures often use networks of family members or close associates with bank accounts to channel migrant payments. Like many illegal activities, they invest their profits in businesses located in the darkest corners of the economy that operate primarily with more difficult-to-trace cash: brothels, gambling, bars or loansharks.
Large cash purchases are also common for things like new cars, Campo said.
“Most of these structures are money laundering,” said Campo.
Cesar Calderón, the Coronados’ lawyer, says that his client is innocent of the charges and that the slot machine businesses they run are not illegal, as they have their business licenses. He also assures that his client is a farmer, businessman and victim, as his son was among those killed in Tamaulipas, Mexico.
But earlier this year, Campo told a Guatemalan court that the tragedy had not stopped Coronado’s business.
“It was documented after the fact that two more groups, including three minors, had been trafficked,” the prosecutor said.