Another Mexican border to cross

A young boy with his clothes placed in a plastic bag crosses the River Suchiate.

TEXT OF STORY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: President Bush is in Mexico today, the final stop of his six-day tour of Latin America. Today he will meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and border security — a touchy issue — is certain to come up. Calderon isn't happy with plans by the Bush administration to build a wall along the border. But Mexico has its own problems along its southern border, which is so porous that both people and goods cross unchecked. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace's Dan Grech reports.


DAN GRECH: Mexico shares 200 border crossings with Guatemala.

Many of them are illegal, like this one near the Mexican town of Ciudad Hidalgo.

Dozens of rafts made of truck-tire inner tubes navigate the shallow River Suchiate. They arrive on the Mexican side carrying Guatemalan migrants on the first leg of their journey to the United States.

The rafts leave weighed down by canvas sacks of corn and green papayas. Some experts estimate upward of $10 billion in contraband cross Mexico's borders each year.

The Guatemalan side of the river is dangerous. Gang members hang out at a driftwood bar, listening to reggaeton music. Drugs and arms are said to pass through this lawless place, and gunfights are common.

Despite the danger, a half dozen flatbed trucks line the shore. They're loaded with smuggled produce.

DRIVER: Ah, si, es un buen negocio. Es por eso que venimos aqui a comprarlo. Trae cuenta venir a comprarla aqui, en este lado, en Mexico.

The driver of one truck says it's worth the risk. He smuggles papayas to avoid the sales tax and import duties.

DRIVER: Es el libre comercio. Bajo de agua.

This is free trade, he says. Under water.

On the Mexican side, the feeling is different. A group of men play mariachi music in the shade of a tree. Nearby, a guard hired by a local farmer watches over the contraband produce as it's loaded onto rafts.

This entire informal economy runs, quite literally, on the backs of Guatemalan boys. They balance 100-pound sacks on their tiny frames. Their legs quake under the strain.

Rica de Leon is 15.

RICA DE LEON: Aqui trabajamos. Llevamos y traemos. Descargamos y venimos por mas. Todo el dia. 150, 100 quetzales entre tres personas.

He says he'll earn $5 for a day's work. Then he slips into the river and heads back home to Guatemala.

In Chiapas, Mexico, I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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