By Jen Sokatch
Guatemalan authorities are set to enforce stricter airport security measures in hopes of better combating eco-trafficking, or the smuggling of endangered plants and animals to the U.S. and Europe.
According to InfoSur Hoy, the Guatemalan security forces are preparing to tighten border controls, increase inter-agency coordination and set up a special security office at the international airport, in order to deter the smuggling of endangered species from the country.
Trafficking of endangered species is a lucrative business in Guatemala and across Central America, and can sometimes be more lucrative than arms or human trafficking. Estimates by Interpol say the global trade generates up to $20 billion in profits a year. Exotic animals smuggled from the region often sold to pet stores, private zoos or laboratories for experimentation in the U.S.
In Guatemala, logging, illegal fisheries and the theft of rare artefacts are all trades which support smugglers, who often prey on the poorest and most isolated areas. Posing as students or scientists, the smugglers reportedly offer $60 to $120 per species to poor residents in these areas. While the fee may be the equivalent to two months pay for the collector, the smuggler can sell the same species for as much as $5,000.
According to the head of Guatemala's wildlife agency, shipments of endangered or protected species can net traffickers as much as $50,000.
So far this year 20 suspects have been detained in Guatemala for attempted eco-trafficking.