A network of companies in Guatemala and El Salvador are accused of serving as a front for a smuggling ring which brought 720 tons of precursor chemicals into Guatemala via its ports, illustrating the weakness of the country’s maritime border controls.

Officials in El Salvador are investigating two Guatemalan and three Salvadoran companies for allegedly smuggling chemicals used for illicit drug production into Guatemala. According to elPeriodico, Salvadoran police believe the five companies are part of a network of front companies responsible for sending 720 tons of precursor chemicals into Guatemala since March 2011.

While there is no warrant for their arrest in Guatemala, police in El Salvador are searching for Salvadoran Gerardo Armando Villacorta Archila and Guatemalan Federico Alejandro Mora, believed to be leaders of the smuggling network.

InSight Crime Analysis

The rise of Mexican drug trafficking organizations in Guatemala has made the Central American country an important site for synthetic drug production. Indeed, the Sinaloa Cartel, believed to be a major contributor to this trend, may now be producing more methamphetamine in Guatemala than in Mexico, which has traditionally been considered the largest source of meth to the United States.

In 2011, Guatemala seized 1,600 tons of precursor chemicals, a 400 percent increase from the previous year. Authorities have seized so many precursor chemicals in recent months that police in some cities have run out of space to store them properly, sparking concerns over public safety.

According to Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez, Guatemala’s main draw for synthetic drug producers is its lax port security. In a recent interview, Lopez told elPeriodico that this has to do with a lack of resources and equipment. Very few shipping containers are inspected by Guatemalan customs officials, and those that are must be examined manually because the country lacks the x-ray technology used by port authorities in wealthier nations.

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