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SANTIAGO, Chile – Human trafficking is a lucrative criminal industry.
Mexican authorities in the state of Chiapas discovered 513 migrants from the Americas and Asia packed into two tractor-trailers heading toward the United States on May 17.
But what happened in Mexico is by no means an isolated incident, as millions have put their money and their lives in the hands of human traffickers in recent years to better their lives as illegal immigrants.
Undocumented residents make up a high percentage of urban populations in the Dominican Republic (23%), Brazil, (14%), Bolivia (21%), Colombia (13%), Nicaragua (8%) and Peru (7%), according to the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Ideas for Development in the Americas.
But human trafficking is not limited to the Americas, as there were 214 million undocumented migrants living throughout the world, according to the International Organization for Migration.
At the police and customs control station in the northern Chilean city of Cuya, which is about 50 miles south of the border city of Arica, law enforcement agents discovered a truck that was hiding 17 Peruvian citizens, including an 8-year-old boy on May 16.
The vehicle’s driver had charged the group of immigrants a total of $170,000 pesos (US$370) to get them into the country. The truck driver, however, was released after being fined for carrying too many passengers because he was stopped at a police station in Chile, according to the Chilean daily El Mercurio.
Peruvians wanting to remain in the border region must have proper paperwork, according to the Tacna-Arica Pact signed by both countries in 1991.
But those who want to go to southern Chile must have a tourist visa, a measure adopted by the Chilean government to prevent illegal immigrants from settling in economically attractive cities, including Iquique, Antofagasta and Santiago.
The legal loophole used by the truck driver could be closed if legislation introduced in Congress by Sen. Jaime Orpis is ratified.
The number of undocumented immigrants in Chile has risen in the past few years, according to the Foreign Department of the Investigative Police.
In 2008, there were 108 reports of unauthorized entry into Chile.
Two years later, the number jumped to 314.
Last year, 320 illegal immigrants – mostly Argentines, Peruvians and Bolivians – were deported.
Statistics show migrants are using the Chacalluta border crossing, on the Peruvian border, to enter into Chile.
In 2010, 4,244 Colombians entered through that crossing, but only 3,058 left. Figures also show 3,263 Ecuadorans entered, but just 2,769 left.
Chilean law stipulates that “an individual acting as a human trafficker is he who, for money, facilitates or promotes illegal entry into the country by a person who is not a citizen or resident.”
On May 18, three Paraguayans who were working at a Chilean vineyard in the city of Santa Ana escaped from what they said were “slavery type conditions of work.”
The victims said they were lured while they were living in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. They said someone they did not know promised them $3 million guaraníes (US$750) a month to work at the vineyard, according to the Chilean website Cooperativa.cl.
But once they got to Santa Ana, a small town south of Santiago, they discovered their working conditions were not what they were told, as they were given one meal a day and could only drink salt water, according to the Paraguayan daily Última Hora.
Chilean authorities opened an investigation centering on the owner of the vineyard, Chilean businessman and former presidential candidate Francisco Javier Errázuriz, Cooperativa.cl reported.
During the first week in May, a Peruvian citizen identified as Pedro Guajardo Buenaño was arrested at the country’s northern border.
Guajardo Buenaño was charged with human trafficking when authorities found he was trying to bring in three Colombian women, who had paid almost US$300 apiece to be taken to the city of Arica, in northern Chile, police said.
The women were released pending an investigation.
Waldo Ortega, adjunct consul in the city of Arica, is aware of the problems his fellow Peruvians have getting permission to travel to central Chile. He says those who are denied permission often try to enter the country illegally.
But Ortega said Peruvians want to live in Chile because it offers them a better future.
“We are working with different NGOs and with the Church, trying to get benefits for those who are here and cannot go back,” Ortega said.