“Today at noon I leave the migrant shelter ‘The 72’, after receiving repeated death threats from groups of organized crime that kidnap and extort migrants. I decided to leave for an indefinite period of time due to imminent danger and the fact that my life is in peril. There are no guarantees of my safety, no mechanisms that can make our work secure, much less safeguard the physical integrity and human rights of the migrants who pass through this zone. As long as corruption, complicity and indifference on the part of authorities continues, we will continue to be threatened, we will continue to be attacked, the humanitarian tragedy will continue on the migratory route.” June 12, 2013. Ruben Figueroa, Mesoamerican Migrant Movement.
As the Comprehensive Immigration Reform advances in the U.S. Senate, repressive policies against migrants who pass through Mexico have become more pronounced and represent a huge step backwards.
For example: last April 19 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on the Mexican government to implement precautionary measures to protect and safeguard the lives of human rights defenders Father Tomas Gonzalez Castillo and Ruben Figueroa, both directors of the migrant shelter “The 72”, in Tenosique, Tabasco who have been threatened by organized crime, and of volunteers and guests of the shelter.
These defenders have received support from organizations throughout the country and the world. Since mid-2012, they have been denouncing and confronting delinquents, who demand the payment of quotas for riding The Beast—the train that carries migrants through Mexico. It was already inconceivable and denigrating to have to travel clinging to the side of a freight train. Today for this form of travel migrants have to pay the Maras and the Zetas an obligatory quota of 100 dollars for each stretch of the journey. They are forewarned that anyone who does not pay will be thrown from the train. And the threat is carried out, causing many deaths on the train tracks.
For reporting these crimes to the responsible authorities, the activist human rights defenders have been repeatedly threatened with death by messengers from organized crime. Their high-risk situation led the IACHR to rule that the Mexican institutions charged with security carry out special protective measures.
Every day Father Tomas and Ruben, accompanying the migrants, report to the federal public ministry agents as eye witnesses of deeds such as death threats, attacks, extortion and injuries inflicted by delinquents who have been clearly identified and pointed out. On various occasions, and one time when the criminals had been plainly identified with no possibility of error, the officials released the accused with no explanation except due process. In clear contrast, when they received complaints from the criminals against the defenders, they made the criminals protected witnesses and granted them escorts and precautionary measures. The criminals now pass freely and arrogantly in front of the entry to the shelter, with an attitude of defiance and total impunity.
Recently a group of pro-migrant activists formed a fact-finding mission along the route beginning in Orizaba Veracruz and continuing along the train tracks to Tenosique, Tabasco. Along the way they gathered testimonies and evidence from neighboring communities along the train tracks and from migrants in transit. The evidence was of high quality due to the large number of cell phones with cameras that photographed the route.
One documented case was the the community of Las Barrancas of the municipality of Cosoloacaque, where last May 1 dozens of migrants were thrown from the train for refusing to pay the quota. Community members debunked the official version of the events saying, ‘It is absolutely false that there was a skirmish between migrants. There were a few aggressors who were armed and the majority of people were not. This was an attack of a few against many. It is false what they say about a fight, we have the photos and recordings’, said the municipal delegate of the community.
This report was delivered to federal Senators who traveled to Tenosique May 28 and visited and heard the denouncements of the shelter “the 72”. Special attention was paid to the situation of danger in Palenque, Chiapas, where organized crime has control of the town. Two days after sounding the alarm with the authorities, including the senate commissions the vivid and terrifying image of two Honduran women, shot on the train tracks near Palenque for refusing to pay the quota of $100, dominated the media and moved all of society. After that nothing happened. These assassinations will not be investigated or punished. They are just added to the interminable list of victims.
All these crimes are preventable if the authorities did their job and eliminated the control by organized crime and official complicity from the migratory route. But there are many mysteries behind the tangle of the administrative tasks of the National Immigration Institute (NII), charged with visas, and the security functions run by the Direction of Investigation Specialized in Organized Crime (SIEDO, by its Spanish initials), both decentralized agencies belonging to the Ministry of the Interior. What does the NII have to do with security? That’s a question that must be resolved. The inquiry has been formally submitted to the Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI), asked to respond to the reasons behind the inclusion of the Mexican immigration agency in Plan Merida, the U.S. security aid package to Mexico.
Another pearl to understand is the announcement by the head of INM, who bragged he had active staff infiltrated in the ranks of organized crime. What is odd about this, is that since it should be an intelligence secret why was it announced to the media?
What should really be the responsibility of the Mexican government in guaranteeing rights such as the right to migrate or freedom of transit? Both of these are recognized human rights and constitutional guarantees in Mexico. June 10 marked two years since they were formally included in law and they have yet to be applied. For the political system, these are issues exclusively of national security, and in the backstage workings of the bilateral relationship, national security is understood only as that of the United States and not our own.
There exists a fear that hoards of migrants in transit will pile up on the northern border and it will become difficult to govern. Recently the Ministry of the Interior held an inter-institutional conference on the issues. It gathered mostly agencies of the army, the navy and federal and state police agencies– all of them to deal with the problem and human crisis existing on the southern border.
Without a doubt, the social premise of “Human solutions to human problems” as announced was not the guiding principle of this mega-meeting. The authorities’ concern is not the protection of the higher interests of humanity, but rather issues linked to geopolitical interests defined by the U.S. Pentagon’s Northern Command–to extend the southern border of the United States to the Suchiate River between Mexico and Guatemala. The idea is that migrants will pile up there instead.
In this context, one can completely understand that allowing organized crime to operate freely on the migratory route is part of alternative forms of control of migratory flows, through the current warlike means, the bloodiest of all.
This is the reason that human rights defenders like Father Tomas Gonzales and Ruben Figueroa have to be forced out, due to the lack of action on the part of the authorities who are responsbie for the crime recognized in penal codes as guilt by omission.
Marta Fernanda Sánchez Soler is co-director of the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano, a grassroots organizacion dedicated to accompanying migrants and building awareness of the conditions they face as they cross through Mexico. A migrant herself, in past years, she contributed to the formation of production cooperatives among poor communities in Baja California and been an adviser in popular education programs and productive projects. José Jacques y Medina is a Mexican politician and activist who has worked on the rights of Mexican migrants in the United States and was a Federal Deputy from 2006-2009. He was Under-Secretary on Migration, and a founding member of the National Union of Migrant Workers of Mexico, coordinator of the Network of Migrants, founder of the Labor and Immigration Action Center and director of One Stop Immigration and Education Center.
Editor and Translator: Laura Carlsen