Struggling to the top

Outstanding International Report winner of the New America Media Awards 2011/2012 [Series, last of three]

Migrants struggle to get free food in a Tijuana shelter.
Migrants struggle to get free food in a Tijuana shelter.
Foto: Ricardo Ibarra

Hondurans between snakes and eagles

Tijuana / Mexicali.–

Trucks and grenades

Margarita has a secret. A silence which she is trying to forget, something that happened in a remote village in Chiapas, Southeast Mexico.

Silenced by fear. A natural protective instinct. Because when even talking about it, she feels her life is in danger, as well as her family in Honduras. The words she speak to the recorder come out with fear: “It’s the organized crime. They know my country like the palm of my hand and the simple truth is that those people have influence in the police. The drug traffickers are linked with Migration agents, and with cartels. If you give information about them, there are allways people inside police agencies that work for them, so it is not okay to talk about them.”

Margarita, younger than 20 years, migrating from Honduras to cross the United States border knows about hiding information to a reporter: the name of a place in Chiapas, where she spent her most traumatic experience ever.

Although safe in the shelter for migrant women, Centro Madre Assunta, in Tijuana, over 4,000 kilometers away from Chiapas, from South border of Mexico all the way North, she prefers to keep her secrets for herself, the finer details.

In her story, she travels with her uncle, a friend and another young man heading to the United States, when intercepted by several new model trucks in a modest town of Chiapas. Men descend off the vans with high caliber weapons, body armor, “even belts with grenades.” she says. From one moment to another, she’s traveling in vehicles, blindfolded in the dark, with unknown destination.

“When you pray a lot to God, God moves mountains and we came out of that well. Nobody touched me even with a fingernail, but yes, we were kidnapped, but they didn’t do anything to us,” she says.

Perhaps no one knows what happened exactly to Margarita. At the end of her story she doesn’t include her travel companions. She manages to reach a road and a Christian family gives her a ride from Chiapas to the northern border, to Tijuana.

Margarita has a young mulatto body, much like the Caribbean. Many times in her story she highlights the sexual harassment of police, immigration agents, drug dealers…

At the end, in her silence, only she knows the truth. What really happened in Chiapas.

Trains and machetes

The wild and rugged landscape of Mexico showed it’s fiercest teeth to Holvan Renieri and his group in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, the port located 1.420 kilometers south of Tijuana, near the Pacific Coast.

In this famous coastal port in northwestern Mexico, he and two fellow travelers are the 25 surviving guys mounting “La Bestia”, the freight trains used by migrants to cross the Mexican geography, from south in Chiapas up to these regions.

When they let down the train in Mazatlan, private security personnel blocked their way out. Like mice in a maze, the only clear path led to an alley where some men who were waiting with guns and machetes. They stripped the migrant travelers with everything they had, leaving them only with boxers, almost naked and barefoot.

Holvan is 23, from Honduras. Drinking coffee and waiting hot instant soup to cool down provided by the module of Albergue del Desierto right in the Mexicali-Calexico border. He’s been deported by U.S. Border Patrol just one hour ago, with two of his friends that survived the mexican path.

Holvan is the only one who wanted to talk about their experience: “We were stripped naked and took away everything from us: shoes, money, and still beat me with a machete so wide, they hit me in the back with the plain side,” he says, wearing the clothes of someone else.

Any uniform is a threat, the say. Especially in southern Mexico, they explain. “You will run from the police, not for fear of being caught, but for fear of them taking your money, they assault you… just because they can… It’s like that, from Mazatlan to Chiapas up to here.”

For them, humiliation never ends. Holvan says that in Mexico they receive a different treatment because they’re foreign. They need to take care from the police and even the staff of some shelters for migrants: “You see how all given food is quietly good (in shelters), but for us, we just get bread with lettuce and mayonnaise,” describes Molvan, tired and dry skinned for so many ultraviolet rays for over a month travelling towards the “american dream”.

Initiation shots

At 17 years, the adventure North for Ramon has become one of those trips where the adolescent initiation ends up becoming a man.

In this race against the economic poverty of his mother, who fired him from Honduras, sending him to migrate to the U.S., Ramon has seen and done what he ever imagined. He escaped from the Maras Salvatruchas, the Zetas, the Mexican police. It’s been four months since he started his attempt to cross the United States border.

While regaining the courage to cross the border, he’s being employed as a carpenter near the Albergue del Desierto in Mexicali, a new employment that may not fit with his anatomy: long body, slender, brown skin, curly hair and green eyes, as one of those kids that can be imagined cutting coconuts on a tropical beach.

What’s Mexico for this young Honduran? “Danger,” he replies without hesitation.
Since he rode “La Bestia”, along with a couple of Hondurans and Salvadorans friends he met in this almost mythical adventure for the Centralamericans, overcame the dangers of the Mara Salvatrucha, when in Chiapas these gangsters took down from the train a bunch of migrants, Ramon included.

Then, in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, he had to get down of the train in a hurry, because of shots coming from people who identified themselves as Zetas. “They stopped the train and fell to rob or kidnap migrants”.

“We no longer saw what happened”, remembers Ramon, safe in the Mexicali migrant shelter, “whether killed or taken away, I never knew. We went to the back of the train and then got out and ran as fast as we could.”

Eagle or Sun (Heads or Tails)

The roads in Mexico are for Central American immigrants as a coin toss, with the eagle and the sun as the only plan. Life and death at the hands of someone else. Someone who carries a gun to bring out a Mexican reality increasingly violent.

The discovery of 72 bodies belonging to migrants in a wasteland of Tamaulipas, in August 2010, turned on the alarm of the new everyday: migrants kidnapping, integrating them with organized crime and, if not, killing them.

The Human Rights Commission in Mexico (CNDH, as in Spanish) released a study in 2010 documenting 214 mass kidnappings in the states of Veracruz, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, Chiapas and Oaxaca, only from April to September, only last year.

In total, 2010 were abducted about 20,000 migrants in Mexico, according to the CNDH.

This 2011, Mexico passed a law to protect migrants. Meanwhile, Judge Baltasar Garzon has said that there is in the southern neighbor a deep humanitarian crisis.

Calculations from different organizations indicate about 300,000 Central American migrants enter Mexican territory in pursuit of the American dream, every year.

Mexico adopted in mid-2011 a new Immigration Act, a regulation that is missing track, but above all, implement in every day actions.
In total, in 2010 there were abducted about 20,000 migrants in Mexico.