BUENOS AIRES – During Interpol-led Operation Andes, 49 people suspected of human trafficking have been arrested. In 11 countries across the continent, smuggling routes to the United States were monitored and networks identified. In Chile, crew members of a shipping company from Bangladesh were arrested when presenting false identification papers.
The investigation, launched in February 2018 in Colombia, investigated smuggling networks in Latin-America, especially those helping migrants to get (closer) to the United States.
Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru participated, and authorities in these countries checked routes and borders during the last four days of November to identify patterns of human trafficking.
During this operation, called Operation Andes, 18 people were arrested on charges of smuggling, while ahead of the investigation 31 people were arrested in Colombia. In that country, over US$2 million was seized.
According to Interpol, Asian migrants paid these networks between US$15,000 and US$30,000 to get them to the United States. In one particular case, police in Nicaragua rescued a group of migrants from Haiti and Africa, who were left to die in the mountains by smugglers.
In Chile, Bangladeshi migrants presented immigration authorities with false identification papers, provided by smugglers. The migrants were illegally working as crew members of a shipping company.
Apart from the smuggling charges, four individuals were arrested on accusations of terrorism and homicide. In Colombia, eight people were arrested as sex offenders and for exploiting young women. In the Dominican Republic, 30 women, most of them from Venezuela, were rescued after they had been lured into sex work after their passports had been confiscated by the smugglers.
In Central and South America, migration emerged as a challenge, with people fleeing violence, poverty, corruption or political instability. Smuggling networks take advantage of the desperate situation these migrants find themselves in.
Earlier this year, a group of Peruvians was arrested after bringing hundreds of migrants into Chile, sometimes leaving them behind in open mine fields or sexually abusing them.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and made appearances on BBC World Services and ABC News during major events in Chile.