Monthly Archives: February 2014

Tales from the Narcozone: Rubén Moreira Wants to Govern Me (Carlos Velázquez, GATOPARDO)

Enrique Peña Nieto on the campaign trail in the 2012 presidential elections. On the right, Rubén Moreira. They are wearing Santos football jerseys. (Photo credit, La Jornada).

Enrique Peña Nieto on the campaign trail in Coahuila in the 2012 presidential elections. On the right, Coahuila’s now governor Rubén Moreira. The politicians are wearing Santos football jerseys. (Photo credit, La Jornada).

This post, from the blog, Peligroso Pop, appeared in Gatopardo on 24 January 2013. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Rubén Moreira Wants to Govern Me
By Carlos Velázquez (GATOPARDO)


Coahuila is living through an unprecedented governability crisis. Torreón, the state’s second most important municipality, has become a paradise for criminality. TV anchor Carlos Loret de Mola has even come up here to snap souvenir photos. And Saltillo, the state capital, also lives through rough waves of violence.

Politics in the state of Coahuila looks more and more like the television series The Tudors: intrigue, betrayal, duelling brothers, sickness, intrafamily violence. Lucero Davis, the widow of José Eduardo Moreira Rodríguez blames Coahuila’s current governor for her husband’s death (translator’s note: the late José Eduardo Moreira was the son of former governor Humberto Moreira, and nephew of current governor, Rubén Moreira); Humberto Moreira has gone from being governor to the PRI’s national president to a jam maker to a scholarship recipient in Spain; there are rumors the belittled governor will exit, to be replaced by Jericho; then there are Humberto’s complaints about Felipe Calderón to The Hague in December 2012; an outstanding warrant for the arrest of Javier Villareal, former head of the Tax Administration System (Sistema de Administración Tributaria), who gave flight and who nobody bothers to mention; the damned state debt, etc. And all of this in only two seasons: rather, I mean two of Moreira’s gubernatorial terms. Oh, Coahuila, where is it all going to end?

From the above, and a lot more besides, everybody, absolutely everybody from Coahuila wants to send the governor over to Hong Kong for cigarettes. We’re fed up to the back teeth with the drama that we have to suffer because of the Moreira clan. Sick of the violence that outdoes any Hollywood blockbuster, exceeds that of the warrior in almost any war. Torreón: “The most violent city of the last presidential term,” is the epitome that rules us. I hasten to add the city was violent throughout the old presidential term and through the beginning of the new term. We know what to expect when the city gets scolded. Submission. That’s what happened to Miguel Ángel a fourteen-year old youth who interrupted Rubén Moreira on the campaign trail with a question in Technical School no. 83 and was forced to fall into line by the guv’nah’s bodyguard.

When 158 police officers from Gómez Palacio and Lerdo were fired, including public safety chiefs, the security crisis worsened so much that in Coahuila’s Laguna, as well as Torreón, everywhere became a paradise of hurt. Bank stick-ups, robberies in mobile phone stores, payday lenders, restaurants where thieves took wallets, phones and jewelry. Carjackings, robbing passers by, kidnappings, extortion, a population brought down by panic, ejecting itself out the window. It has all made Coahuila sing: “No, no, no. Rubén Moreira, oh no, no, no. Why oh why? Ruben Moreira wants to govern me.”  But, really, the state just doesn’t agree with the State.

People from Coahuila conjure up an image, just like in that commercial for the Cheyenne pick-up truck: Humberto Moreira looks out at Coahuila and says to Rubén Moreira: “Brother, some day all of this will be yours.” But hey, what about governability? Or the figure of the governor? People are infuriated because in the recent killings in the Tornado bar, the guv’nah hasn’t said a word. Not even a “my deepest condolences” to the state’s residents. Torreon has taken the biggest beating in the state, but Saltillo, Acuña and Piedras Negras are also living through violent streaks. The guv’nah should speak or say something. That way we won’t be able to call him “he who needs to mourn.”

We have – just like in the Elvis song – a “suspicious mind.” Nobody believes it a coincidence that the Hidalgo-born Zetas’ leader “El Lazca” holed up in Coahuila before he was killed. The ties between the state of Coahuila and Hidalgo are often misunderstood. Rubén Moreira’s wife, Carolina Viggiano, was born in Tepehuacán de Guerrero, a town in Hidalgo State. I am not getting this wrong. On the contrary, I think there’s just too much of a coincidence. The disappearance of “El Lazca’s” body was just like that — too much of a coincidence. We’re tougher than The Walking Dead. In the television series, the dead return as zombies. But Heriberto Lazcano’s corpse (“El Lazca”) just disappeared into thin air. That set off a myth. He’s become immortal: like Elvis, Pedro Infante, and the “Lord of the Heavens.” Maybe “El Lazca’s” still alive and on some beach in the Bahamas.

One day, if I ever decide to start a rock group, I am going to call it The Dead Miners, honoring the fallen in Pasta de Conchos, Múzquiz, Sabinas, and Progreso. That last place is where “El Lazca” was brought down and, according to Humberto Moreira his nickname was “Mr. Miner.” He owned two coal pits. Coahuila is a pigsty. If the state hits rock bottom one day, if one day this state wants to pick itself up again and dust itself off, nobody is going to know where to put the detritus. Decimated, broken, and violated: that’s how people in Coahuila currently see themselves.

Torreón, the birthplace of the narco revolution, is no longer the exclusive battleground between “El Chapo” and the Zetas – different cartels camp out here: the Knights Templar, the Cabreras. Mostly anybody with the balls to arm a cell just has to go into the street to attract members. And they don’t need to be in the drug business. It looks like they’ve already announced the world is going to end because Torreón is already being pillaged. They won’t leave anything for the cockroaches. Shuttered bars, closed casinos, banned cockfights, everything with the kiss of death: an invitation to flee. The first to go, the most intelligent ones to leave, are the prostitutes since there’s no longer any business for them in the city. So they migrate. Jumping like rats from a sinking ship.

According to journalist and commentator Isabel Arvide, Rubén Moreira handed the state over to the Zetas. It’s a shame that he can’t ask them to return it since, as the saying goes, it’s been a costly deal with the devil. Everyone hopes the state debt can be repaid over twenty years. Let’s just hope those are people years and not dog years. The guv’nah says the state’s debt problem has been solved. I suppose he’s referring to the media fallout. What a relief, though. We all thought the media would keep harping on about unfinished business. At least now we can get some sleep.

With so much chaos, it’s good to bear in mind two pretty postcards as souvenirs from Coahuila:

1) That image of Rubén Moreira and Enrique Peña Nieto wearing Santos soccer jerseys. The question is: one day, will they really wear the shirt? Or maybe it was just to snatch some empathy since they were both campaigning for office.

2) The song swirling through the heads of people from Coahuila: “Baby, baby, what ya gonna do when you’re guvn’ah.”

Rubén Moreira wants to govern us, and we are going to follow him.

Writer Carlos Velázquez (1978, Torreón) is a prize-winning Mexican author with several books to his credit. His most recent book — a tour de force of reportage — is El Karma de Vivir al Norte (Sexto Piso, 2013). This post first appeared under the title “R. Moreira me quiere gobernar,” available at:


Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Between the Furrows (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This Malayerba column was first published in RíoDoce on 23 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Between the Furrows
by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

José’s only childhood memories are of green, leafy furrows and more furrows. The bush has so many leaves that parts look like an attractive fist, fragile, and inviting. In between the furrows of the always humid, exposed, ready soil, waiting for rains and seed, his sister plays dolls and he plays with cars, the spinning top, or marbles.

José finds himself in a dilemma. José does not know if he is going to sell this year’s harvest to the village above or the one below. He doesn’t explain his doubt. He is overwhelmed by a heartache that makes the other type of furrows grow: those bottomless ones, those on the brow.

It’s pot. His parents, uncles, and neighbours – all the villagers – once grew marijuana. Over there, on top of the mountain, on hillsides, on patios, on the roadside, beyond the mountain, in the forest, a few meters from river, above the ravine down below.

His youngest sister made dresses for her black, blonde, skinny, and fulsome dolls. She stripped them and then she began to dress them again with clothes she made from castoffs discarded by her mother when she sewed pillowcases, curtains, quilts, or some dress or another.

He bought marbles from Doña Chona’s store. Misty marbles colored green, orange, and red in the center, or black like the rumbling thunderclouds bringing rain for the furrow celebration: the weed, the harvest, the plant with its many festive fists.

He only had a few toy cars. Some were wood, others iron. They had all been roughed up, beaten, chipped paintwork from so many play crashes. They were his toys. Pursing his lips, then blowing out air like a never-ending fart. Mimicking the sounds of an engine. The sputtering sound of the wooden car, his oldest.

Now, though, he’s a tired old man. Those furrows are waterlogged from the abundant summer rains. Right there, on his land, on other people’s land, too, where the water builds up now they are constructing a dam: they will bring tourists for rides, buy launches to rent, and devote themselves to farming freshwater fish.

And he is seated on a board. Close to what he used to have and has, and now no longer belongs to him nor to anybody else. He recalls and his eyes mist up, surrounded by new wrinkles, even more bottomless: those furrows, that weed, his sister playing with dolls and giving them paper for food, him with his toy cars, the marbles.

But now nothing’s left. Just two tons of his hidden marijuana: if he sells it to the villagers above him, the villagers below will kill them. And, if he sells it to the village below, the others will kill him. And then he won’t have cars or money.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This column was first published under the title, “Entre los surcos,” and is available at

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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When the Zetas are Your Editors (Marta Duran de Huerta, EL TOQUE)

This article first appeared in El Toque on 10 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexcian Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Zetas’ Editorial Line
By Marta Duran de Huerta

– “Their press releases come via a sub-editor. The Zetas carefully monitor everything that is published and whose byline is on the story,” an exiled Mexican journalist reports.

“We are journalists displaced by violence. First they put a car bomb at the entrance to my husband’s newspaper. Later, I had to leave the state,” says Raquel Suma*, a Mexican journalist forced to flee abroad.

“I used to be the editor of a Tamaulipas newspaper, an area fought over by two of the largest organized crime cartels. To save our lives, my whole family had to leave,” she adds.

A survivor of several attacks, Suma explains “the Zetas are in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. The Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo) is on the northern border. We used to think that we could be safe while the Zetas weren’t in the state capital. That nothing would happen. But when car bombs started arriving at the entrance to newspaper offices and at the big broadcasters like Televisa we exclaimed, “Holy shit!” That’s when we knew the Zetas had arrived.”

Organized Crime has a News Agenda

Raquel Suma is young and stands out for her investigative journalism in Mexico: “from 2010 — and as much as I was able — I spoke out on the media and in meetings about how the Zetas use the media. Here’s how things work: the Zetas call you by phone; they have all your numbers: cell, office, and house phones. They usually contact a reporter who speaks for the crime beat. They send a press release that can refer to any subject.”

She goes quiet, then continues her story: “They can also order you not to publish anything. Their press releases come via a sub-editor. The Zetas carefully monitor everything that is published and the byline the story carries. They check to make sure if you followed orders and published what they ask,” the journalist explains.

From her exile, this Mexican reporter specifies that if the Zetas find out that you didn’t publish what they wanted you to, “they round up the journalists and hit them with large, rough, meter-long pieces of clapboard with nails in them, just like a faquir’s “bed”. They beat you until you pass out. Zetas never ask. You have to publish what they want or “they order you.”

Seated, she begins to drum her fingers on the table. “It’s difficult for me to overcome the jitters,” she explains, adding: “At first they asked for news about police matters. Now they want news about their events: from baptisms, to first communions for their children. They want these things in the newspaper as if they were big news. If it’s useful to them, they even want coverage of citizens’ protests.

If the Zetas want a spotlight on the sporting achievements of some team or athlete who is part of their group, it has to be done. “Of course they don’t pay for this coverage. If there’s a confrontation between them and they don’t want anybody to know, nobody is going to publish a word. But if they kill one of their enemies, well, you have to publish that,” says the reporter.

Voice breaking, she continues with her story: “While I worked at the paper, I tried to avoid the Zetas’ instructions. So, if they wanted a piece of news to stand out on the front page of the crime section, I used to shrink it, and hide in the newspaper’s last page. I used to say, “They can’t kill us! Maybe that’s what enraged the Zetas,” she says.

She doesn’t go into details. Raqul Suma limits herself to explaining how she became filled with fright and had to flee Mexico, taking her children but leaving everything else behind. She is thousands of miles from home and has no way of going back. The young journalist continues: “As editor-in-chief, I had to call the newspaper’s owner to tell him what had happened. I used euphemisms but I told him: The kingpins want this thing… and he always used to say to me: You know the routine. Do what you have to do. So I picked up the phone and called all the editors from the other outlets to ask if they had received the same instructions, and if they would run what they’d been told to print. If everyone accepted, then we would publish it, too. Our families’ lives depended on that.”

Politicians Pay the Zetas

Raquel picks up her story where she left off. Even though the interview’s being conducted in a safe place, the reporter doesn’t stop looking around.

“The worst thing about the last two years is that politicians pay for protection from the Zetas. That means that journalists can´t reveal any scandals about local officials in cahoots with organized crime.”

 “We can’t even report on protests about the rise in energy prices, or a neighbourhood protest where residents demand resumption of their water supply. Nothing. Zetas have managed to make money in unimaginable ways,” says Suma.

What’s even worse is that Zeta’s have the backing of officials from the three levels of government: local, state, and federal. “They even have the loyalty of the governor, the public prosecutors, the mayors, all sorts of officials,” the journalist maintains.

“Reporters in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, won’t publish a thing – either for or against organized crime – save for obligatory news items. Conversely, on the border, all the news goes against the Mexican Army. There’s a marked anti-Army line and the Gulf Cartel is behind it. The Cartel even uses the media to attack the Army. But the Zetas do not. The Zetas are timely and snappier. They have it very clear who they are going to attack and who they will defend.”

“When you see some news from the south or centre of Tamaulipas that complains about Army abuse and the violation of civilians’ human rights, you can rest assured it has nothing to do with investigative journalism. That story won’t even be put together by the newspaper, but comes straight from the Gulf Cartel. Since 2009, one or other of the organized crime cartels has determined news coverage,” Raquel Suma concludes.

*Raquel Suma is an invented name. The journalist is under threat from the Zetas and lives in exile.

Journalist Marta Duran de Huerta is a Mexican sociologist who has published seven books. This article first appeared under the title, “La mesa editorial de los Zetas,” available at:


Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Missing in Mexico: Tales from Death Highway — Stretch of Veracruz Highway Serves as Dump for Bodies of the Executed (Hernán Villareal Cruz, DIARIO PRESENCIA)

This article first appeared in Diario Presencia on 18 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Missing in Mexico: Tales from Death Highway — Stretch of Veracruz Highway Serves as Dump for Bodies of the Executed
By Hernán Villareal Cruz (Diario Presencia)

– Taxi drivers, teachers, union leaders, and lookouts for organized crime, just some of the victims found in the last ten months on this stretch of highway near Las Choapas, Veracruz

Over the past few months, criminal groups operating in the state’s southern town-ships – among them the towns of Las Choapas and Agua Dulce – have used the stretch of highway between Paralelo and Coatzacoalcos to dump bodies, many of them decapitated. Searching newspaper archives for an estimate of their number yields a statistic of at least a dozen victims.

The area around El Paralelo, from the Las Choapas junction to before the Madisa industrial zone, already sets off alarms about violence and insecurity. But this year the number of execution victims is increasing, without anybody being arrested for them.

The lack of patrols and darkness are key factors that have turned this highway into an ideal place for organized and common criminals to execute or “get rid of” victims. Nobody catches them in the act. In the first part of this year, at least five bodies have been found, one of them a female is as yet unidentified.

The number of dead can only be documented because they have appeared: beheaded beside the road, thrown down ravines, on neighborhood roads or between lots.

Counting up the Bodies

On 13 March 2013, human remains belonging to a man were found inside a black bag on one side of the Coatzacoalcos-Paralelo highway around 32 kms from Agua Dulce town-ship.

The victim has never been identified. Forensic studies show that he could have been murdered. A .45 calibre bullet casing was found in the same place.

Size 32 blue denim pants were found at the crime scene, along with a Hugo Boss belt, a military green t-shirt, white socks, and grey sports boxers.

On Tuesday 1 October 2013, on the same stretch of highway around the garbage dump, a body appeared – covered in blood with a face bound with brown tape, hands and feet tied.

The victim turned out to be 29 year-old Samuel Méndez Martínez, resident of the El Muelle neighbourhood in Agua Dulce. For a time he had worked at the Rabasa oil well. His body showed signs of torture and his death resulted from blows that caused immense bleeding and possible brain trauma.

Union Leaders

On Wednesday 18 October 2013, the leader of the Authentic Federation of Veracruz State Workers (FATEV), Adolfo Sastré Palacios and another worker later identified as Darwin de la Cruz Sarauz, both of whom had been reported missing, were found executed in a clandestine grave near the Rabasa oil well.

Investigations reveal that first they were tortured on a highway stop on the Coatzacoalcos-Paralelo highway. Then their bodies were driven to a lot for burial at the 5.5 kms point on the old highway between Coatzacoalcos Agua Dulce. They were decapitated before burial.

In the murder of the union leader, investigators opened two lines of inquiry: rivalry between the Las Choapas and Agua Dulce unions, and extortion or collection of a turf fee for companies that work for PEMEX, the country’s state-owned oil company.

Two teachers and a taxi driver

On 1 November 2013, workers at a ranch located at the 21km mark on the Coatzacoalcos-Paralelo highway saw a taxi in the undergrowth and a bloodstained trunk area. They got close enough to see a decapitated body. Its head was between its legs.

When the authorities checked over taxi 135 from Agua Dulce, they discovered another body in the trunk. A little while afterwards that body was identified as Juan Felipe Nájera Sánchez, a driver of for-hire vehicles.

On 2 February 2014, the second body was identified. It was that of a teacher, Irving Alor Santander, who had been murdered and decapitated.

Meanwhile, on 4 November 2013, on the side of the same highway, around the 24km mark, the body of a teacher resident in Coatzacoalcos appeared.

They were Members of the Teachers’ Movement in Veracruz (MMPV)

His father, Amílcar Humberto Morales Briones, identified that body. The last time the father heard of his son’s whereabouts he was roaming around in a taxi, drinking with teacher Irving Santander.

Both Irving Santander and Álvaro Montes took part in the seizure of tollbooths in protest against the federal government’s educational reforms. They participated in the Veracruz Teachers’ Movement (MMPV), fighting to prevent secondary legislation and changes to Mexico’s constitution.

Another Taxi Driver

On 11 February 2014, a taxi driver who had disappeared for five days was found decapitated on the other side of the same stretch of highway, this time going in the direction to Villahermosa from Coatzacoalcos. The head was not found. Forensic investigators and the public prosecutor took the remains of the body.

The victim was identified as Otoniel Fabre Torres, 28 years old, who lived in the Centro neighborhood of Agua Dulce. His relatives reported that he had been missing since 6 February. He left his house around 20:00 that night. He never returned.

And a woman

Last 12 February the body of a woman was discovered. It was obvious she had been murdered. Her body was found to one side of the stretch of highway from Coatzacoalcos to Paralelo, around the 6.1km mark. Her body was in an advanced state of decomposition. She had a cloth wrapped around her head.

Owing to the body’s obvious decay, her age could not be calculated. Since a cloth covered her face, there’s an assumption that she had been dumped in that place for at least three days. She still has not been legally identified.

Most recently, on 14 February, a person of indeterminate sex was found. Again, the body was in an advanced state of decomposition. The body was discovered in a bag in a ravine around kilometer 20 of the Coatzacoalcos-Paralelo highway.

Judicial sources revealed that they had only found the body’s limbs, and that they were in an advanced state of decay.

And Those Still Missing…

It’s important to mention that these are only the cases that have come to light in the past few months. The authorities are aware that a large number of people have disappeared and their whereabouts remain unknown.

The Veracruz State Public Prosecutor’s office in Las Choapas currently reports six disappeared people, the result of a round-up by alleged judicial authorities driving around in a white truck last Tuesday, 11 February. But until now, no authorities admit to having detained these disappeared people. A fifteen year old girl is among those missing.

Reporter Hernán Villareal Cruz is one of Mexico’s at-risk journalists. He writes for Diario Presencia in Veracruz. This story first appeared under the title, “Tiradero de ejecutados tramo Paralelo-Coatza,” and is available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Missing in Mexico: “It’s not enough to hand over a sealed box then say, here’s your child” (Pablo de Llano, El PAÍS)

This article first appeared in El País on 17 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Missing in Mexico: “It’s not enough to hand over a sealed box then say, here’s your child”
by Pablo de Llano (El PAÍS)

–        Argentine forensic scientist, Mercedes Doretti speaks about the challenges in her work – her team collaborates with Mexico on unidentified bodies

Mercedes Doretti (Buenos Aires, 1959) has helped identify human remains in Argentina, Peru, postwar former Yugoslavia, El Salvador, and the Philippines. After more than thirty years of work she is convinced that governments must deal transparently with the families of the dead.

“Sometimes the problem doesn’t lie with the identification techniques, but in credibility. Sometimes there’s an overblown secrecy to the cases. And the relatives are people who have had the worst thing happen to them: to lose a husband, a son, a daughter. Obviously one wants to know what happened. How did they die? How were they identified? Words don’t suffice. It’s not enough to hand over a sealed box then say, here’s your child. Forensic identification is not an act of faith.”

Doretti, who helped establish the reputable Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, is in Mexico to work with the federal attorney general on the analysis of remains from three massacres of migrants, emblematic of the north of the country’s drug violence. Two massacres from Tamaulipas (in the same township in San Fernando 72 bodies appeared together in one grave in 2010, and in 2011, 193 bodies were distributed between various graves), and another massacre at Cadereyta in Nuevo León where criminals tossed cut up torsos from 49 people across a highway early one morning. Another area she is helping with includes the final identification of 13 young people murdered in Mexico City in 2013 after they had been kidnaped from a nightclub.

Just this week controversy has arisen over another northern Mexican case. Authorities in Coahuila state announced the discovery of narco-graves and, after several days of contradictory information that still has not been verified, the region’s victims called the search operation “a farce.”

In Mexico, the work is difficult but possible. It depends enormously on political will. 

The words of a family member of a disappeared person from Coahuila in an interview with this newspaper reflect the problem of the authorities’ lack of credibility. “If they tell them they are ours, we won’t accept it. We need proof. They can’t just hand them over and act as if the problem is solved.”

Questions about Mexico’s disappeared surged from 2006 to 2012 as a result of the strategy of the full-on assault against drug traffickers. The government confirms that 70,000 citizens died during that period, with about 25,000 of those fatalities unidentified. Add to those 26,000 unresolved disappearances.

Doretti thinks that Mexico confronts a complex challenge, and gives the Argentine example up by way of comparison. “We went through a similar situation, with a very high number of disappeared people. We had to construct a national databank of disappeared family members and an exhumation program that lasted many years. All of this implied that time strengthened the process. The work is difficult but not impossible. It depends enormously on political will.”

Besides the specifics of Mexico’s situation, the Argentine forensic scientist talks about the regional program developed by her team. The Borders Program (Proyecto Frontera). She is building a network of databanks along the American migration corridor, from originating Central American countries to the biggest destination, the south of the United States, passing through Mexico, a huge space along the way.

The databanks require shared labor between public agencies and NGOs in every country. They collect information about the disappeared by interviewing families and taking DNA samples. Doretti explains that an inter-regional system for information sharing does not exist. The network they are building began to operate in 2011. They have added 633 cases and identified 67 migrants.

Her team has an inter-regional identification plan for migrants

Her ambition for Project Borders is that it have the wherewithal and sufficient support to resolve the current situation. Most migrants who disappear without trace vanish forever into a black hole of general lack of interest and institutional inefficiency.

The forensic scientist stressed that these problems don’t just occur in developing countries but also in some poorly resourced local communities in the United States.

She gives the example of Brooks County, Texas, where in 2012 they found 127 migrants’ bodies. The county has no morgue. They failed to identify the bodies as a result, and buried them in a grave. When people found out what happened, protests began and a few months ago Brooks started to send its bodies to another county with a morgue.

Many other Texas counties continue in a similar situation to Brooks: each unidentified body gets thrown down a hole and it’s there a person’s story finishes. A person who traveled thousands of kilometers in an attempt to grow and thrive and who once had a name.

Journalist Pablo de Llano reports for El País from Mexico. You can follow him on Twitter @pablodellano. This story first appeared under the title, “No basta que te entregen un cajón cerrado y te digan acá está tu hijo,” available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.


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The Enemy (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RÍO DOCE)

This Malayerba column, a regular feature, was first published in RíoDoce on 16 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Enemy
by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

A policeman arrived at the commander’s office. Not just any policeman, he was an officer. He said to the commander: the boss sent me. His people want you to run with them. They don’t want you making a fuss. There’s this. To show you they are good people. It’s just for starters. Let them do their work. That’s the only thing they want. That’s all.

The commander looked at him. He turned to look at the briefcase. He opened it. Wads of bills tied together with rubber bands poked out, spilled out, almost jumped out from the briefcase. No, he replied. I can’t accept. He doesn’t tell him that he’s already taken. Or that he’s honest. He doesn’t say that he works for the government and serves citizens. He simply says, no: take the bag, and remember that nothing happened here. You’ve got no problem with me.

The officer went away, crestfallen. Mouth sealed and right hand clenched tight into a fist. They said goodbye at a distance, as if they didn’t want to touch each other again. Minimal courtesy. The officer didn’t even face the commander, only gave a half turn towards him as he was stepping out. He seemed to be in a hurry. As if he was beating away on a fast retreat.

The commander watched him. He picked up the phone and asked someone to come in. A uniformed officer entered. He told the commander that the officer who left was working for a kingpin from a neighboring city, that he was doing everything he could to get into their city to control everything. Silver or lead. That’s the way they do things, boss.

Two weeks later, the commander was leaving his house. His bodyguards waited for him in another car. The commander took his assigned patrolcar. He was taking his son to school. It was early because at 0810 the school shut its gates. He heard a shot, then another, and then a hail of bullets. The guards ducked in response. The shots went everywhere: buzzing, whirring, and grazing. Hot.

He turned to look at his son. Blood ran down his arm. Even as the bullets flew, he decided to take him to hospital. The guards covered his exit, fighting fire with fire. Two were injured: one policeman and the commander’s son. Another was killed: an alleged hitman. The policeman and his son were out of danger.

The commander reported that the attack came in retaliation for his work fighting crime. He hit their interests, he told the reporters. He returned to work after a few days. Then he had to appear at the prosecutor’s office. They had already started to investigate.

We are going to invesigate. To give it to them. An official promised that justice would be done, commander. We won’t leave this alone, he reassured him. He continued by introducing the officer in charge of the investigations, heading up the special group. The officer came in. The commander trembled: it was the same officer who had offered him the briefcase. Oh, what a pleasure to meet you.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This column was first published under the title, “El Enemigo,” and is available at You can meet Valdez Cárdenas at Mexico City’s Feria Internacional del Libro in the Palacio de Minería this Sunday 23 February at 3pm.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Missing in Mexico: For Victims of Disappearances, Farce over Narco-graves Provokes Rupture with Coahuila’s State Government (Inés Santaeulalia, EL PAÍS)

This article first appeared in El País on 11 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

For Victims of Disappearances, Farce over Narco-graves Provokes Rupture with Coahuila’s State Government
by Inés Santaeulalia (EL PAÍS)

–        Relatives of the disappeared clash with authorities in the northern Mexican state after an alleged operation to find missing people

Mexico is missing 26,000 Mexicans. The anguish of their families puts a face to a debt blighting the country: Mexico has as yet been unable to explain its disappeared peoples’ whereabouts. The latest blow to victims comes from Coahuila State, in the country’s north, a place punished by violence from organized crime between 2006 and 2012. The recent discovery of various narco-graves with human remains resurrected families’ hopes and fears, but it’s been accompanied by confusing, even contradictory information from the state government, causing victims’ patience to evaporate. The United Force for Coahuila’s Disappeared (Fuundec), the country’s largest such association, decided to cease its dialogue with authorities for the first time in four years. “It has all been one big farce,” summarized Rosario Villanueva. She has been looking for her son since 2009.

In Coahuila, a photo in last week’s newspapers stirred up the victims’ tense wait for word about their loved ones. Families learned through the press that the state government had found several narco-graves. Nobody wants to talk about it, but an awful question popped into peoples’ heads: “Could it be my relative?” The authorities – even including Governor Rubén Moreira – sat down last week with Fuundec’s members to inform them about what the press was reporting as “the first large-scale national operation” to look for missing people. By Monday, he had changed his message: Moreira now talks about “small finds.”

“The governor was asked if they were following the appropriate search protocols, and he said they had been taking care with the remains, but that’s all a lie,” explains Villanueva. Images spring to mind of heavy machinery working the ranches where organized crime supposedly buried the victims — the US Spanish-language channel, Univision, filmed the operation in Allende (about 60kms from the US border). “Do you know what they do when they find dinosaur remains? They use brushes and a great deal of care so as not to break anything. Here they turn over the ground when they look for people,” complained Raúl Reyes who has been looking for his thirty-four year old son Raúl Ignacio since April 2009.

The deputy prosecutor for missing people, and the head of the alleged operation, Juan José Yáñez, told this newspaper that 250 people were participating in the operation. The personnel were drawn from the state and federal police, and the army “to comb” an unknown number of ranches in 11 townships. Coahuila is the country’s third largest state and occupies 150,000 square kms. Yáñez stated that the procedure used was to “prick the earth” with sticks so that sniffer dogs could smell for human remains. The operation also used radar for underground mapping.

Last Wednesday EL PAÍS traveled to Coahuila on the state government’s promise to provide access to the operation then underway in the city of Monclova. But unexpectedly the day before our arrival, the authorities said that the operation had finished. In spite of a request, officials would not provide a map of the work areas and they refused to show any discovered remains that had supposedly arrived that same day in the forensic medical service (SEMEFO). This newspaper could find no evidence an operation existed beyond the testimony of state authorities.

The state’s attorney general and the deputy prosecutor explained that they found bones, burnt remains, and various drums that criminals used to make bodies disappear by reducing them to ashes. This information contradicted information given by Coahuila’s governor on Monday. “There are bodies that are never going to be identified,” Yáñez remarked. The DNA analyses of the supposed human remains will take months but the families’ mistrust of the authorities began in no time. “Even if they say they are ours, we won’t accept it because we need proof. We don’t just want bodies returned to us to make the problem go away. We want to know about everything right up until the end: who disappeared them, and why,” said Mr. Reyes.

Coahuila’s government says that the graves were discovered as a result of information obtained during interrogations and detentions, from statements made by mayors, former mayors, and officials from the 11 townships under search. Citizens sent in anonymous tip offs in response to a flyer asking for cooperation in locating the disappeared.

Media outlets slowly leaked news about the operation until last Saturday when the newspaper, El Siglo de Torreón, published the deputy prosecutor’s statement that 500 human remains had been discovered in graves. The very same Yáñez then denied that information to this newspaper. “I never spoke of numbers. The bones could come from just one person,” he said in a phone call.

Coahuila has a population of 2.7 million inhabitants, and lived through an escalation of violence during Humberto Moreira’s governorship (2006 – 2011), brother of the current incumbent and nominated as national PRI president in 2011. Months later Humberto Moreira was removed for an illegal increase in the state budget during his term in office. State authorities say the violence began to decrease in 2011 and that the region has calmed. The state attorney general, Homero Ramos, remembers that in 2011 they fired 33percent of the state police force for corruption and ties to the narco. “Previously we had to combat organized crime. Now we are going after common criminals,” he says.

The debt to the disappeared remains outstanding. The state purports to be one of the few in the country that has “recognized the problem.” As such, in 2011 it created a deputy prosecutor’s office for missing people. It says that it has a full database of the missing, that it has gathered DNA samples, and that it meets twice a month with victims’ families to inform them of any advances in the search for their loved ones. The last of these meetings occurred on Saturday. After the meeting, Fuundec decided to get up from the table and issued a press release. “Fuundec categorically rejects the operation, doubts its results, and is suspending meetings with the state until those responsible … explain publicly and transparently what happened.”

“We feel deceived by the authorities. They make promises, but they never investigate. In three years and nine months they have never offered a single result. We don’t want dead people, we want them back alive,” says Mireia Villareal, the mother of the Cantú brothers. Villareal pounded on the trucks that carried her sons away early one morning in 2011. The two twenty-year olds, Lauro and his brother Jorge, were abducted from their home in Torreón, Coahuila by some men “dressed like soldiers” as their mother wept disconsolately after them.

Others simply disappeared without even a “so long or goodbye.” Four years ago, José Alberto Cerda left his house one morning to head for Monterrey to fix his car. Claudia Risada (25) left her son with her mother and said she was going out to eat with her boyfriend one night in 2011. One afternoon in 2009, Antonio Jaime Aldaco (40) went to buy some cigarettes a few blocks from his house in Saltillo. That’s how they were last seen. In Coahuila there are 1,665 lives on hold.

Journalist Inés Santaeulalia reports on Mexico for El País. This article first appeared under the title, “ Las victimas rompen con el Gobierno de Coahuila por la “farsa” de narcofosas,” available at: A photo gallery by staff photographer Saúl Ruiz accompanies the story.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Missing in Mexico: Coahuila’s State Government Fails to Inform about Disappearances (Inés Santaeulalia, EL PAÍS)

This article first appeared in El País on 11 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Missing in Mexico: Coahuila’s State Government’s Fails to Inform about Disappearances
by Inés Santaeulalia

–        Authorities in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila sow doubt and offer contradictory explanations about an alleged operation to locate the remains of the disappeared

The State Government of Coahuila, in northern Mexico, reported recently that an operation had found human remains in narcofosas (narco graves) in 11 townships. EL PAÍS wanted to see the results of the search and traveled to a state that according to some official figures has experienced at least 1,665 disappearances in the past 14 years. The state government promised to show us the results of the successful operation on Wednesday 5 February in the city of Monclova. But then on Tuesday afternoon the state said that it had decided to suspend work for an indefinite period.

Attorney General Homero Ramos and the sub-prosecutor for missing people, Juan José Yáñez, who heads the operation, received EL PAÍS on Wednesday in Saltillo, the state capital. Ignoring a request for information, the authorities failed to show a map of the work areas. Nor did they permit us – in spite of their initial promise – to see the discovered remains that supposedly had arrived at the forensic medical service the same day.

The constant communications by members of state Government to journalists, with repeated calls throughout the day, became irksome and inexplicable: none of these calls helped to prove if the state had conducted an operation. “It’s a shame that you didn’t come yesterday (Tuesday) because if you had you would have been able to see everything,” rued the Attorney General on several occasions.

The Government said it would provide photographs of its work and sent an email containing images. Their dates, which can be traced through appropriate photo analysis software, correspond to 2005 and 2011. Officials also told journalists that Governor Rubén Moreira, from Mexico’s ruling party the PRI wanted to see them, but he never confirmed an appointment.

“It is the first large operation at a national level,” reassured Attorney General Homero Ramos. The government talks about a force of 250 people, from the state and federal police and Mexico’s army, trained dogs and radar to comb through an indeterminate number of ranches in 11 townships where, allegedly, drug cartels tore up their victims.

This newspaper could not find any indication that the authorities undertook an operation, aside from the information provided by the authorities. The sub-prosecutor and head of the search operation, Juan José Yáñez, admitted it is impossible to know how many people the remains came from. According to his information, they found burnt bones among the remains and several large drums used by criminals to reduce the bodies to ashes. “There are bodies that will never be identified,” he added.

Last Saturday, various media outlets reported the remains of 500 people had been found in the graves, but by phone Yáñez denied the information. “I have never spoken of numbers. All the bones could come from just one person. You can’t do this overnight,” he said. This Monday, the state’s governor admitted to the press that the published information was incorrect and that there had only been “small finds.” On the same day, the largest association of families of the disappeared, The United Force for Coahuila’s Disappeared (Fundec) decided for the first time to break off its dialogue with the state government, because of the operation’s mismanagement.

Last Wednesday, the day when state functionaries agreed to accompany EL PAÍS to Monclova to witness “the first national operation” in search of the disappeared, two government officials picked up the press from the city of Monterrey in Nuevo León to take them to the Attorney General’s offices in Saltillo. After the meeting with the Attorney General, sub-prosecutor Yáñez limited the visit to a tour of the offices. Our trip raised more questions than it answered and revealed that Rubén Moreira’s government is not disposed to share information. At one moment, before the evident mistrust of the reporters, one state official asked, “I don’t know what you expecting to find. What did you want to see, a dead body?”

Journalist Inés Santaeulalia reports on Mexico for El País. This article first appeared under the title of “Los pretextos del Gobierno de Coahuila por no informar,” available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.


Bittersweet Welcome: The Ceaseless Cycle of Deportations from the US to Guatemala (Alejandro Pérez, Plaza Pública)

Last year ended with a record 50,000 Guatemalan migrants deported from the United States -- many will try the journey again. (Photo Credit: Sandra Sebastián, Plaza Pública).

Last year ended with a record 50,000 Guatemalan migrants deported from the United States — many will try the journey again. (Photo Credit: Sandra Sebastián, Plaza Pública).

This article first appeared in Plaza Pública, a Guatemalan digital newspaper on 3 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Bittersweet Welcome: The Ceaseless Cycle of Deportations from the US to Guatemala
By Alejandro Pérez (Plaza Pública)

The tide of Guatemalan deportations from the United States is not dropping. What choices do returnees have? What attention do they receive? Public agencies, businesses and migrant organizations search jointly for alternatives but nothing seems enough to change the situation that made them first risk their lives in search of work.

IT is a daily occurrence at the Guatemalan Airforce base (FAG): around a hundred people are packing their belongings into red sacks. Some board a small bus waiting in the courtyard. The luckiest – the smaller number – waits for a relative or friend waiting outside to meet them. Others wait for a city bus that will take them closer to their destination.

The group begins to disperse. The crowd forms everyday, every morning, but midday will pass before nobody is left.

Inside the hall the travellers had occupied minutes before, workers from the General Migration Directorate (DGM), the Social Welfare Ministry and the Attorney General’s Office (PGN) pass through collecting paper bags. They organize the seats, clean the floor, and play the marimba, all the while waiting for the next plane.

The wait wasn’t too long. In less than half an hour, another white plane from World Atlantic Airlines, filled with Guatemalans deported from the United States, lands on the runway. After a few minutes, the plane’s involuntary passengers start to walk in a file towards the FAG offices. Now, they walk as if they are free. Before leaving the plane, officials had removed the plastic handcuffs required for travel. Every day, these planes arrive with greater frequency. Before 2009 they used to arrive once a week. Now they land about two or three times a day, three or five days a week. The hardening of migration policy and the heightened controls on the U.S.-Mexico border — coupled to the constant flow of undocumented migrants — has meant that in less than a decade the number of Guatemalans deported by air has risen from 4,483 in 2005 to 46,898 last year.

Among them is this group, the latest to touch down on Guatemalan soil.

The first instructions the migrants hear on entering the FAG building have to do with calling the meeting to order, taking a seat, and paying attention. When the festive notes of the marimba die down, the migrants are given a paper bag with a sandwich, a cookie, and a boxed juice. As much as possible they must pay attention to the welcome party of officials. If they can’t, they at least have to be silent for the immigration authorities’ ten-minute presentation informing them of the necessary paperwork before their departure.

The group is only made up of men. Some of them have the features of children, but others are more than 50 years old. Accents from the east of the country, speaking in Maya, these are two signs that give away their origins.

“Welcome.” That’s the official message authorities try to convey with posters in Maya and with a talk that, even more than the formal instructions, carries motivational tones. But even that is not enough to change the despondency and evident frustration on some of their faces.

One of them is Silvino Chávez Esteban. He spent two months in prison in the United States after he was caught in Texas after having crossed the border.

In addition to the regret he felt at not having been able to even secure work, Chávez felt uncertain about his mother, Mercedes Esteban. The 60-year old left Guatemala six weeks ago with her two youngest grandchildren, taking the same route as her son in order to reunite them with their mother, Chávez´s sister.

Mercedes Esteban crossed the Río Bravo, and then was captured. The U.S. authorities removed her grandchildren, sending her, like her son, to a prison to await deportation. A fifteen-day stay meant her prison time was briefer than that of her son. Mother and son eventually succeeded in reuniting, only not in the United States. Instead, they met up by coincidence in the FAG’s offices after being deported: Mercedes had arrived on the earlier flight.

Although Chávez accepts he’s going through a rough patch, he also mentions he feels less worried now he knows his mother is safe.

Mercedes also found reasons for calm. Not only did she meet up with her son, but she also has news that U.S. authorities found the grandchildren’s mother. Although they are in custody, U.S. immigration authorities won’t deport them, and won’t separate them.

Looking for Work

The migrants’ reception complements the “Welcome Home” program, which begins to function the moment the deportees leave the hall. The program focuses principally on supporting each of them, trying to change the economic situation of the returnees with aid, training, and work contacts.

Guatemala’s National Migrant Council (Conamigua) runs the program. It had its start at the end of last November. Earlier it functioned as the Program for Repatriated Guatemalans run by the International Organization for Migrations (OIM), financed by United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The original program had four spheres of activity: assistance to returnees, psychosocial assistance, economic reintegration and the prevention of human trafficking. The program ended when it was meant to, in July 2013. USAID financing dried up, something that impeded renewal of a similar project. Deported migrants were left without support until Conamigua picked up the project.

Over the course of the four months without OIM help, Guatemala’s migration agency and other institutions continued receiving returnees. But the deported went straight to the street, with most officials ignoring their plight.

The idea of continuing with the lapsed program came from the Association for Migrant Support (AIM), explained one of its members, Jorge Hernández. Former OIM staffers make up AIM, and they coordinate their work with Conamigua.  According to a study about Guatemala’s migrant policies, edited by Claudio López for a civil society migration group, between 84 and 92 percent of adults who migrate to the United States do so for work, or to improve their economic situation.

As with the OIM program, the Conamigua project has the goal of putting deported people in contact with businesses to help them find work; however, a scant number of deportees can actually obtain a job this way.

Hernández explains that for the past three years under OIM, only 85 people managed to find permanent work. “The businesses that hire ask for 80 percent English, and most don’t fulfil that criteria,” he added.

The AIM staffer’s explanation makes sense considering the types of undocumented migrant workers on the plane. Most of these deportees were caught just after they had crossed the border. They did not have the chance to learn the language or adapt to different working conditions.

The program’s dynamic relies on establishing contacts between deportees and businesses looking for workers. Conamigua and AIM have agreements with worker-hungry businesses: Centrarse, a Guatemalan center for social responsibility with 150 business members, Transactel, an outsourcing call center and Conexión Laboral, specialising in personnel recruitment. Conamigua’s stated results reveal a variety of discrepancies. Hernandez’s AIM confirms that, until now, no returnee has found a job through the “Welcome Home” program; but Alejandra Gordillo, its director, argues that about 10 people have found work. Gordillo’s claim has the support of María José Girón, Conexión Laboral’s director. But Hernández counters that the only way Conamigua’s statistics can be correct is if they returnees found work between July and December 2013, when neither OIM nor AIM participated in the process.

The Technical Institute for Training and Productivity (Intecap) also has an agreement with the program. The goal is to complement the deportees’ training in an area of their choice. It can be used to improve their level of English, or specialise in the work they learned inside the United States: mechanic, carpenter, construction, or whatever activity facilitates entry into the workforce.

There’s little agreement – according to AIM’s data – about the training. Only 125 deportees have chosen a training course through this entity. Gordillo argues that Conamigua has paid for about 500 training courses.

Intecap fails to dispel doubt about the discrepancies. According to Martha Pozuelos, head of client services at Intecap, Conamigua is the responsible data collecting institution. For this reason, Pozuelos declined to confirm how many courses Intecap has delivered, the numbers of migrants benefitting from them, and how much Conamigua has paid Intecap.

For some returnees training can positively affect their job search. But for others, like Silvino, a farmer from San Marcos who did not learn English because he failed to find a job in the US before he was deported, the trainings offer little benefit.

AIM has to wrestle with the problem that it cannot help the majority of deportees. AIM concentrates on migrants within Guatemala’s metropolitan area, both to create a solidarity network and for the necessary work contacts. But the number of repatriated city dwellers is low when compared to the remaining deportees: 35 to 50 per week, whereas more than 1,000 come from the rest of the predominantly rural country. However, Hernández says that the overall objective, as possibilities arise, is to extend the solidarity network and the work contacts into the country.

Young Migrants

Differences between deportees aren’t restricted to whether they come from inside the capital or from the countryside, whether they have been trained for employment, or not. The authorities are aware of a more significant difference:  one of their first questions concerns the presence of minors in the group.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed about. He’s being honest and he told us he isn’t 18,” explains the supervising migration official as a murmur runs through the group of returnees. The immigration authorities then  hand the youth over to officials from the Attorney General’s office.

Only one underage boy presents himself even though the faces of some others betray they are the same age or young than the separated youth.

The youth who came forward would have benefited more if he had admitted he was a minor in the United States. There he would have been entered the protection of the state. In the future, he would have had the possibility of requesting a U.S. visa.

Hernández explains that in most cases minors fail to come forward for lack of knowledge about their rights and peer pressure from the group. When they identify themselves in Guatemala, the advantage is that they are only under the protection of the Attorney General’s office until reuniting with their family. Even so, their return home is complicated – the adult who cares for the minor has to follow up with the Attorney General’s office – sometimes the minors try to re-cross the border. Some stay with their small group of prison or plane companions. The youth are the most animated. Smiles and jokes don’t betray the fact that a few weeks ago they were on the point of dying in the desert, spent a few days in a U.S. prison and have now been returned to the same situation that had made them leave Guatemala in the first place. Most now have more debts than when they left.

Juan Mateo from Acatán, San Marcos, is one of those who would have preferred the Attorney General’s office remain unaware of his age.

How old are you?


Why didn’t you identify yourself when they asked minors to step forward?

Because I didn’t want to (he responds with a shy smile).

Are you thinking about going back?

Yes. I just need to find a coyote (a guide across the border).

He refers to coyotes  because their initial high price comes with the offer to cross two or three more times if the migrant is detained and returned to Guatemala.

According to Conamigua’s data, the number of deported Guatemalan minors during 2013 decreased from 586 to 313 when compared to the previous year. That’s a 49 percent drop. However, Juan Mateo’s denial of his age when asked to come forward by the authorities shows that their figures could be incorrect.

Homeward Bound

“Each of you comes with a great gift. Do you know what that is?” asks the migration agency’s representative. “Life,” respond the recently arrived, in unison. “Life,” echoes the speaker. “You all know how many friends and countrymen you have lost along your journeys. But you are all blessed, for in a few hours you will be returned to your families.”

When the speeches end – the authorities manage to garner applause, smiles, an even a whistle from their audience – the rest of the welcome home ceremony is devoted to paperwork. One by one the returnees line up to hand in their details. Somebody announces an instruction: “If you gave a false name in the U.S., please try to remember what it was.”

Some take advantage of the wait by taking up the offer of a phone call. Others visit the office of Banrural – a bank that officially participates in the program to provide microcredits. But the recently arrived use the bank to change their dollars for Guatemala’s quetzals. The AIM director confirms that the bank in the building doesn’t offer microcredits. It is equipped only to change currency.

US Immigration authorities provide migrants types of footwear without laces. On re-entry to Guatemala their shoes are returned to them. (Photo Credit: Plaza Pública)

US Immigration authorities provide migrants types of footwear without laces. On re-entry to Guatemala their shoes are returned to them. (Photo Credit: Plaza Pública)

The group forms a line to receive their luggage: the red sacks carried by the same plane. The returnees can then change from their blue uniform Chinese slippers to dress in their own clothes, putting on their shoes – now with shoelaces – and again using belts to hold up their pants.

Some are ashamed of the bags. “Leave them there. If you don’t, people will know you got deported,” says one of the returnees before he exits the hall.

Migrant authorities emphasise that the deportees are "welcome" in Guatemala (Photo Credit: Sandra Sebastián, Plaza Pública.)

Migrant authorities emphasise that the deportees are “welcome” in Guatemala (Photo Credit: Sandra Sebastián, Plaza Pública.)

Outside, on the patio, Conamigua and AIM staffers register each case. Then they take the small bus provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a service that runs only on one route since it must serve the greatest number of people. Its destination: Huehuetenango. Along the way it drops off deportees from Chimaltenango, Sololá, Quiché, Quetzaltenango, and San Marcos.

If a deportee cannot find the means to get back home, thanks to an agreement between Conamigua and the Casa del Migrante they can stay in the capital while search out transportation.

Santiago Reina, a 45 year-old deportee doesn’t want to return to these hardships and lack of protection: “It’s fucked up when you travel through Mexico,” he says after he hands over his details.

For many in the group, this deportation is only a temporary setback on the way to fulfilling their need to work in the United States. They are stuck in a cycle: between risking their lives attempting to cross borders, or trying to survive in the place the airport bus will soon take them back to. While they wait inside the hall at a loose end, the officials put the marimba music back on. They begin to clean and prepare the building for the passengers on the next flight.

Reporter Alejandro Pérez covers migration and energy issues for Plaza Pública. Follow him on Twitter @bjandrop. This article first appeared under the title, “La agridulce bienvenida: el circulo incesante de las deportaciones,” available at: The full article in Spanish comes with a slideshow by Sandra Sebastián of the deportees in the welcome center.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

Veracruz authorities find body of abducted journalist (Diego Cruz, Centro Knight UT Austin)


Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz

Authorities in the violent state of Veracruz found on Tuesday the body of reporter Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, who was missing since last week. Four people allegedly linked to his murder are in custody, reported Mexican daily El Universal.

The news saddened colleagues around the world who in the last six days had taken to the streets and the internet to protest his disappearance. The mobilization was one of the largest and most important by the world’s Spanish-speaking journalists in recent years.

Official sources from Veracruz confirmed that Jiménez’s body was found in a grave with two other bodies in the township of Las Choapas. Armed men abducted Jiménez on Feb. 5 near the city of Coatzacoalcos.

According to newspaper Reforma, authorities reported that the mastermind behind the crime was Teresa de Jesús Hernández Cruz, Jiménez’s neighbor. Authorities said she paid several alleged hitmen – four of whom have been captured – to carry out the crime. After being detained, the suspects took state authorities to the grave where they found the bodies.

The investigation is still ongoing and a search is underway to find an additional four suspects, El Universal reported.

Over the course of the day, before Veracruz authorities confirmed Jiménez de la Cruz’s death, the rumor that he had been rescued spread through social media. On Twitter, a reporter from Coatazacoalcos, Gabriela Rasgado, said that journalists from Las Choapas had confirmed that Jiménez had been found alive. Then on Facebook, journalist Sayda Chiñas Córdoba – Jiménez’s colleague at Notisur – said that she had been informed that he had been found alive but possibly wasn’t yet free.

Confirmation of Jiménez’s death sent colleagues into mourning.

“I grieve for you, Goyo. For a minute we thought that we would find you alive, that for the first time we had managed to save a journalist from death. The Federal Attorney must investigate,” wrote renowned Mexican journalist Marcela Turati on Twitter.

This blog post was written by Diego Cruz for the blog, Periodismo en las Américas at the Knight Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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