Guatemala’s Defense Minister has denounced that criminal groups continue to infiltrate the country’s customs system, suggesting that deeper structural reforms are needed to combat corruption within this institution.
On August 1, Guatemala’s Defense Minister Williams Mansilla admitted that criminal groups “persist” in the country’s customs institutions and that greater inter-institutional coordination is essential in tackling this issue, EFE reported.
During a meeting on the topic attended by Mansilla and opposition politicians, various issues within the country’s ports were identified. These included deficiencies in security and merchandise control, and the passage of containers carrying drugs and weapons. The most affected port discussed was that of Santo Tomás de Castilla, a key facility on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast with a direct connection to the country’s main market, the United States.
Vice Minister of the Interior Aníbal Guzmán explained that the police units operating in the country’s ports are insufficient, and announced that 100 more officers would soon be added to improve security, EFE reported.
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The head of Guatemala’s customs authority (Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria – SAT) Juan Francisco Solórzano explained that despite the entity’s requests that ports tighten controls over their operations, only 70 percent of requirements have been met so far. According to the SAT, 14 of Guatemala’s 17 customs operate below the targeted collection amount due to corruption, among other factors.
As reported in April this year, the SAT has proposed reforms to Guatemala’s law against fraud and contraband as well as Central America’s customs code. The body has also requested the creation of a special security force unit against contraband and customs fraud.
“Customs fraud can only be tackled with a multi-sector force and legal reforms,” SAT superintendent Werner Florencio Ovalle told Prensa Libre at the time.
InSight Crime Analysis
The persistence of corruption in Guatemala’s customs system despite several high-profile arrests — including those of former President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti — suggests that more structural reforms are needed to help undercut criminal influence in this institution.
Authorities’ current concerns address several different types of criminal activity within the country’s imports and exports system. One is customs fraud, the type of corruption characterized by the notorious case of La Línea, in which then-President Pérez Molina allegedly headed a criminal system by which import taxes were lowered in exchange for kickbacks. Allegations later emerged that those implicated in the La Línea were still wielding control over their criminal networks from prison.
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This scheme is different from the widespread and ongoing corruption that affects many ports in Latin America, by which criminal groups bribe officials to provide them with information on ship routes, arrival dates and types of cargo to help facilitate contraband smuggling.
Uprooting both types of criminal collusion will require deep structural changes, that go beyond increasing personnel to ensuring that those officials are not corroded by criminal interests.