Smuggling is a form of livelihood on the Mexico-Guatemala border, where economic opportunities are scarce.
Tito was born on the Mexican side of an unmonitored road crossing the Mexico-Guatemala border to a poor family with little farmland. He grew up crossing the border to visit family and exchange goods. Now, Tito has two houses: an old cement block one and a new, two-story house with pillars, tiled porches and floors, and an indoor bathroom with a hot-water shower. Tito sees himself first as a farmer and second as a businessman.
At the Mexico-Guatemala border, Tito makes a living by transporting goods like corn and coffee across the border. In this region, smuggling basic goods has flourished as a form of legitimate livelihood as alternative economic options have evaporated. The border’s recent integration into a hemispheric security and trade agenda has disrupted and displaced the traditional means of livelihood for many border residents. That agenda, which emerged in the 1990s and 2000s in coordination with the United States, focuses on curtailing unauthorized flows of goods, capital, and people. As the security and trade nexus between North and Central America, policies governing the border were increasingly positioned in line with geopolitical security interests emanating from the United States. In effect, Mexico has been a partner in the extension of the U.S. southern border to the Mexico-Guatemala border.
Those living near the boundary have felt the consequences, as residents there have historically traded, married, and migrated across the Mexico-Guatemala border. Even in the face of tightening controls, residents remain savvy in using border knowledge and networks to navigate politics, social dynamics, and currency and trade differentials to make a living where there are few opportunities.
“Free trade is just for the academics and the corporations. The people will become poorer.”