Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei presented to Congress on Friday an initiative to drastically increase the prison sentence for human traffickers, with sentences of up to 30 years for the worst offenders.
For many years, Guatemala has been an important transit country for poor Central American migrants – including Guatemalans – who make the treacherous journey across Mexico to the United States in search of a better life.
But the Guatemalan government has tried to crack down on people smuggling gangs after dozens of migrants died in high-profile incidents, either through overcrowding in transport vehicles or at the hands of criminal groups.
Giammattei suggested that the penalties for smugglers, so-called “coyotes”, be increased to between 10 and 30 years from the 2 to 5 years currently specified under Guatemalan law.
“I reaffirm my government’s commitment to increase prison sentences against coyotes and traffickers,” Giammattei said in a speech to Congress, adding that the United States should also extradite human traffickers.
The proposal states that if smugglers transport minors, pregnant women or migrants are subjected to inhuman treatment, the penalties may be even higher.
Giammattei’s announcement comes weeks after the deaths of 55 mostly Guatemalan migrants when the overcrowded truck carrying them through southern Mexico overturned.
The Guatemalan president demanded that the reform be adopted as a matter of national urgency. But the changes must first be debated and approved by at least two-thirds of the 160 members of Congress.
The bill is considered to have a good chance of going through because the ruling party could get the necessary votes through alliances and the support it has from other benches.
Guatemala’s migration authorities said on Friday that they are also keeping an eye on another possible caravan of migrants who would leave Honduras this weekend and try to cross Guatemala.