Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei presented an initiative to Congress on Friday to dramatically increase prison terms for smugglers, with sentences of up to 30 years for the worst offenders.
For many years, Guatemala has been a key transit country for impoverished Central American migrants – including Guatemalans – who make the treacherous journey through Mexico to the United States in search of a better life. .
But the Guatemalan government has sought to crack down on smuggling gangs after dozens of migrants died in high-profile incidents, either due to overcrowding in transport vehicles or at the hands of criminal groups.
Giammattei has proposed increasing the sentences of smugglers, known as “coyotes”, to between 10 and 30 years, from the 2 to 5 years currently provided for by Guatemalan law.
“I reaffirm my government’s commitment to tougher prison sentences for coyotes and traffickers,” Giammattei said in a speech to Congress, adding that the United States should also extradite the smugglers.
The proposal states that if smugglers transporting minors, pregnant women or migrants are subjected to inhumane treatment, the penalties could be even harsher.
Giammattei’s announcement comes weeks after 55 mostly Guatemalan migrants died when the overloaded truck carrying them through southern Mexico overturned.
The Guatemalan president called for the reform to be passed as a national emergency. But the changes must first be debated and win the approval of at least two-thirds of the 160 members of Congress.
The bill appears to have a good chance of passing as the ruling party could secure the necessary votes through alliances and the support it enjoys from other benches.
Guatemalan migration authorities said on Friday they were also monitoring a possible migrant caravan leaving Honduras this weekend and attempting to cross into Guatemala.
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