The Mexican-American border has a total land boundary of 3, 141 km, as opposed to the Guatemalan-Mexican border that spans just 962 km. The Mexican-American border, since the Bush Administration, and during the Obama administration, has been substantially improved—or so it has been claimed; however, in case you decide to cross the Guatemalan-Mexican border illegally, it will roughly cost you a little more than a dollar, and is relatively easier than the 3,141 km Mexican-US border. Most of the Guatemalan-Mexican border is covered by either jungles in the north, or swamps and lowlands in the southwest, in addition to the highlands of Huehuetenango department in Guatemala, making this a particularly hard border to secure (especially in Peten and Huehuetenango).
In spite of the Guatemalan government’s best efforts—led by strongman Ret. Col. Mauricio Lopez Bonilla (current Minister of Governance)—to combat the cartels and human trafficking groups in Guatemala’s most vulnerable drug traffic-related locations (e.g. the Izabal, Zacapa and Peten departments, to name a few), still, not much progress has not been made in securing the border, which is evident in the recent surge of illegal child migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. As a result, we can ask ourselves: How difficult could it be for radical terrorist groups to cross the Mexican-Guatemalan border? Could it be possible, with the aide of a powerful cartel between the Mexican and Guatemalan borderlands, or by a sneaky coyote-led (human traffickers) group, to provide safe haven to affiliates of ISIL/ISIS or Al-Qaeda, by connecting them into Mexican soil, and further into the United States?
There are reasons why Guatemala could be viewed as a potential gateway to cross into Mexican territory: 1) Guatemala has been easily infiltrated by notorious gang members of MS13, crossing illegally from El Salvador, and easily mobilizing to their symbolic homeland of Los Angeles, California; 2) Honduran, in cooperation with Guatemalan drug traffickers, use the departments of Izabal and Peten as a bridge to conduct business with the Mexican cartels; and 3) corrupt border officials in Mexico and Guatemala have been accused of human rights violations, sexual abuse, and theft, making them powerful players in the few border crossings they control.
It is facts like these that might incline one to ask: What if a Jihadi group tries to cross this poorly-controlled border and make it across the other side of the border using the Sierra Madre Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert as their main corridors?
Taking into consideration the recent beheading in Oklahoma by a ISIL/ISIS terrorist wannabe and the attack on Canada’s Parliament by another terrorist lone wolf, it seems that just as globalization has reduced commercial and technological barriers, increasing cooperation amongst states and regions, it has also expanded radical ideologies, polluting already-susceptible citizens in developed economies; thereby one can agree that anyone, regardless of time, space and territory, can choose to follow an archaic ideology, such as that of the so-called “Islamic State.” What can stop a newly converted group of ISIS/ISIL Latin American wannabe terrorists from entering Guatemala and Mexico, and planning a terrorist attack in territory that is beyond government control?
On one hand, it is worth noting the fact that Guatemala—as a sovereign and independent country—does not require a tourist visa for citizens of Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Brunei, Bahrain, Kuwait, and UAE—though of course, these are also rich countries that Guatemala needs to further explore commercial and investment opportunities in coffee, textiles, and cardamom, for example. Nevertheless, neither governments of these nations, could stop, say, Saudi or Malay posing as “tourists or investors” entering Guatemala in the “name of tourism and investment,” when in truth they could be affiliates or operators of any number of extremist terrorist groups, and actively planning an attack from within Guatemala’s borders. On the other hand, Mexico requires a tourist visa for all of these nations, setting an entry barrier for the entire Islamic world, making Guatemala strategic in the event that a group of terrorists plan to use Guatemalan territory as an easy gateway into United States.
Ultimately, Guatemala’s strategic port of San Jose (located in the Pacific Ocean) could also be used as an entry point by terrorist groups. In particular one cannot help but imagine the possibility of an Indonesian or Filipino Abbu Sayyaf-affiliated member disembarking at San Jose port— from one of the numerous cargo vessels that originate in Asia —and easily taking the CA-1 or CA-2 highways into the Guatemalan highlands, further into Mexico.
Out of these three scenarios I have identified, we must never fail to use our imagination in anything related to the security and well-being of our countries and citizens; in this case, the security of Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. American policymakers and foreign policy students and scholars should start perceiving Guatemala as an expansion of the American border, not only because of the security shortcomings that Guatemala has had over decades in terms of drugs and illegal human trafficking, but also Guatemala has been a noteworthy ally ever since its independence in 1821, particularly during the Cold War era, fighting on behalf of the American government’s values and ideology of that time. American policymakers should aide, train, and advise the Guatemalan security apparatus not only on the war on drugs—and now on illegal immigration—but also vis-à-vis potential terrorist groups, stemming from the Islamic world, or by copycat organizations, for there is no reason why we should not plan for a prospective terrorist threat originating from the Guatemalan-Mexican border.
The views in this article are solely those of author and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Geopoliticalmonitor.com.