Guatemala Is Not Safe for Asylum Seekers

We begin by establishing that Guatemala is not an appropriate country to receive migrants from the United States. Its urban region is tremendously unstable after having suffered negative social phenomena of every type, corruption and violence, as well as natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods and the inevitable landslides.

In addition, the Guatemalan population is the largest in the Central American isthmus. It is double that of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. This is the result of higher fertility rates− the highest in Latin America − and a reduction in mortality.

According to the United Nations, 48% of the Guatemalan population resides in the metropolitan and southwest regions. This is where the political and economic power is located. About a quarter reside in the department* of Guatemala where the capital city is located and which is home to more than half the urban population in the country.

Most concerning is that, as of Oct. 11, the U.S. had amassed more than 476,000 immigrants waiting for asylum. There were 340,801 affirmative asylum applications to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as of Sept. 30, the end of the 2019 fiscal year.

Another tragedy for Guatemala is the use of our territory as a passageway to the U.S. for narcotics trafficking, using ultralight aircraft that destroy the land. Guatemala’s attorney general indicates that narcotics trafficking controls several departments, cities and towns, where the traffickers have laundered money, acquiring property in different parts of the country, especially, near the borders. According to the attorney general, this has allowed traffickers to acquire landing strips for those airplanes coming from Colombia to San Marcos, Chiquimula, Zacapa, Izabal, Cobán, Retalhuleu and Coatepeque. This is especially true in the department of Petén, where the army, under pressure, began dismantling landing strips and found 80 airplanes abandoned by the drug dealers as recently as last week.

The minister of interior and home affairs, Enrique Degenhart, without knowing about regional urban problems or security problems, irresponsibly signed an agreement with Kevin McAleenan** to send all those applicants for asylum in the U.S. back to Guatemala. According to this agreement, it would be the Hondurans and Salvadorans who could determine the use of different airports, including in Petén. This was signed on July 26, but there is still no specific date of implementation.

Along with this national disaster, there is a giant web of corruption running through all levels of the country. At first sight, the state budget contains an unreachable goal. In reality, Guatemala’s social problems, added to the economic and political imbalances, make it a country with one of the highest rates of violence and alarming corruption. Illiteracy is another serious problem in this country where, as of 2015, there were 1.3 million people who could neither read nor write.

The Ministry of Interior and Home Affairs has seen the largest budget reductions. These cuts have been in essential areas, such as education and health. This is an indication of socioeconomic ignorance, with a higher budget allocation going to the National Defense Ministry for the purchase of military equipment labeled “defense of air space,” which could possibly be those famous Argentine Pampa jets for the president, with a price tag of 200 billion quetzals ($26 billion).

*Editor’s note: Guatemala’s land is divided into 22 departments.

**Editor’s note: Kevin McAleenan was at the former acting U.S. secretary of homeland security.

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