While contraband flowing between Guatemala and Mexico is not out of the ordinary, authorities have targeted networks dedicated to an unusual tactic - the smuggling of chickens.
In late April, Guatemalan police carried out a series of 33 raids in the southwestern municipalities of Catarina, Pajapita and Ayutla in the department of San Marcos, and in Coatepeque, in the department of Quetzaltenango, all in the southwestern part of the country bordering Mexico.
The operations were part of the “Polleros” investigation, a colloquial term referring to both chicken farmers and smugglers, and resulted in the arrests of 21 individuals, including three police officials, Prensa Libre reported.
The Attorney General’s Office found two criminal networks that smuggled poultry from Mexico to Guatemala were operating in San Marcos and Quetzaltenango, including one led by a Turkish national, Murat Ali Gürakan.
Poultry smuggling has robbed the State of around 2 million quetzales (approximately $260,000), according to an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, although it did not specify in which timeframe this occurred.
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Mexican chickens and eggs are smuggled into Guatemala via remote areas and blind spots along the Suchiate River that runs along part of the border, according to press reports.
And these are brought into the country mostly without adequate health measures in place. Mexican birds should be quarantined to prevent avian flu outbreaks, according to government regulations.
Shipments of illicit chickens and eggs are also sometimes mixed with legal cargo, thus becoming "laundered" and entering Guatemala legally, which makes it more difficult for authorities to act.
And even if these goods are caught, Guatemala's law against illegal contraband specifies that smugglers will only be prosecuted if the "value of the merchandise is equal to or higher than $3,000."
Authorities explained that smugglers often only bring illegal products across in small quantities to sidestep this technicality.
Mexican poultry products are popular in Guatemala due to their size and low price. Guatemalan authorities reported in 2019 that while Mexican chickens weigh an average of 3.5 kilograms, Guatemalan chickens only weigh 2.2 kilograms on average.
Meanwhile, according to Julio Cordón, the director of Guatemala's National Avicultural Health Program (Programa Nacional de Sanidad Avícola - Prosa), eggs from Mexico can be sold for as much as 50 percent more than their local counterparts on Guatemalan markets.