Category Archives: Latin America

The Doorman who Died on Duty (Samuel Adam, Reforma, RevistaR)

This article was published on 2 November in RevistaR, Reforma newspaper’s Sunday supplement. The article has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

The Doorman who Died on Duty (Photo: Grupo Reforma)

The Doorman who Died on Duty (Photo: Grupo Reforma)

The Doorman who Died on Duty
By Samuel Adam (Reforma, RevistaR)

Mexico City (2 November 2014).- “Don’t mess with me. I’ve been to prison. I’m not afraid of going back.”

The threats from the car keepers [franeleros] on the street had become more and more frequent. Antonio was the doorman for a building in Chihuahua Street in the Colonia Roma. He had questioned them on the more than one occasion when he saw cars parked in the entrance to his building’s garage.

They ignored his requests. On the contrary, they insulted him. They destroyed what he put out to stop them from parking there. They stared him down.

A few months ago the neighbors noticed that he doubled back in the street so as to not bump into the group of thirty-to-forty year old men who “took care” of the cars. The conflict, however, had been going on for almost a year.

On the morning of Monday 13 October, when he left his home headed for work, the threats achieved their objective. The blows they gave him before a police cruiser or ambulance could come to his aid left him in a coma. A week later they ended his life.

With the failure of legislation to regulate car keepers and valet parking, and even with parking meters, the streets and avenues of the Roma-Condesa corridor have been taken over by groups who control the flow of clients to the more than 500 businesses in the area. They are groups who have been called, “the lords of the street” and today, among their number, Mexico City’s prosecutor is looking for Antonio’s murderers.

* * *

For thirteen years Toño was the filter between the outside world and the intimacy of the building’s residents. They only knew his first name.

First, he was employed as a worker for the building’s renovation. When the Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture in the Roma from the end of the Porfiriato [ca. 1910] did not stand up to the passage of time, Antonio contributed to its resurrection from its very foundations.

He built trust when he welcomed the new building’s first occupants. He took care of the building until it was totally occupied. He was a trusted worker until the time of his death.

At the beginning, his task was to open and close the door; from time to time he would help the upstairs neighbor with her groceries; he swept and mopped the stairs, the corridors; he cleaned the railings.

“At four thirty in the morning you would already hear the sound of him sweeping. He liked to work early,” commented a neighbor whom he got along with for more than ten years.

Later, trust in the doorman grew, as did his responsibilities: charging for water, light, gas; buying paint for the walls, looking to buy new pipes for the boiler, changing the broken window glass… even taking care of children while a parent ran chores or went to work.

“Up until the end, he had my key,” said a young man who lives on the top floor. “He was a person whom my wife and I trusted with the kids.”

Instead of an apartment number, his door buzzer still has a word: “doorman.”

His wife also earned the trust of the building’s residents. Every Tuesday and Thursday or Friday when she worked she would clean the apartments of some residents, whether they were in or out, to help Antonio with their family expenses.

They came from Zihuateutla, in the Sierra Norte de Puebla. Antonio and his wife were part of the 244,033 Totonaco residents in the country, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). Like many of the country’s indigenous people, they had to come to Mexico City in search of work.

For the last fourteen years, they lived two blocks from Antonio’s work, in a small apartment in a building where his wife also worked as a concierge for 1,000 pesos per month (US$77).

Toño also had to paint the rooms in each of the unoccupied apartments. He changed the light bulbs, fixed imperfections and took out the trash every morning before he ventured into the streets where, two hours before, bars were open and people made merry.

He drank coffee in the morning before going to take care of his building. At midday, he would return home for breakfast and then return to work. At lunchtime he would go home to be with his wife and at night he ate dinner at home. He returned to the building again to work a little bit more. Close to midnight he returned home to his wife and their two daughters to sleep.

In total, he went to and from these buildings four times a day.

Two years ago his routine changed: he stopped leaving home after dinner to care for a boy whom he and his wife decided to adopt.

A year and a half ago, one of his neighbors advised Antonio to obtain a basic Internet package so his daughters could use it for their education. He did not know anything about technology. In the shop they tricked Toño into buying a computer with Windows 95. He had to replace it so that his family could go online.

A little bit after, Antonio trusted a man who offered to enroll him in a housing program. After taking 16,000 pesos (US$1,230) for the new home, the man vanished.

Antonio characteristic shyness and naïveté also formed part of his wife’s personality. It pained him to speak to officials when he needed things for his family. Outside the circle of his best friend and the residents in the building where he worked, he was alone. Yet he wanted to remain in the city where his daughters were growing up.

After her husband’s murder, the owner of the building she lives in said she could stay and that she would increase her salary to 3,000 pesos (US$230) per month in exchange for also doing Toño’s work.

* * *

With the explosive growth of the Roma-Condesa corridor, the area’s floating population increased exponentially, and with it the valet parking services and car attendants keeping watch over diners’ cars.

Given the disorder of the area’s car park contracts and the car keepers’ wholesale street takeover, the Borough of Cuauhtémoc’s manager, Alejandro Fernández, introduced the parking meter project. It was rejected by a large number of the area’s residents.

Several protests forced a public consultation in which five of the area’s nine districts rejected parking meters. The Roma Norte III district – where Antonio worked and lived – was one of those areas that rejected the meters.

The rejection caused a “cockroach” effect: many car keepers abandoned the four areas where parking meters were installed and took over the areas without meters using boulders, buckets and trash cans. They also began to monopolize the time and take control of spaces in the area where there were parking meters.

Eva Morales and Mario Rodríguez, members of the Roma Norte III Citizens’ Committee have received complaints from residents who have been intimidated by the car keepers. There are those who say that they have had a pistol flashed at them when they don’t pay the high parking costs. The neighbors had wanted to confront them but they dare not since they know where they live.

“They have messed with my building four times in two years. They knew I used to go out one particular day a week for four hours, and on that day they came in. With the other residents, they enter when they go out to eat. They see you. They know who you are, the apartment you are living in, how many live there and the relationships you have,” comments Eva.

The area’s residents accuse police of ignoring drivers or valet attendants who park in the entrances to buildings, calling off the tow trucks when they come to impound a vehicle, of forewarning the car keepers when a police operation is about to begin and of not turning up when the keepers fight between each other.

The group of car keepers who control Chihuahua Street, between Córdova and Jalapa, started to confront Antonio when he asked them not to leave cars in the entryway.

Each car keeper charges between 40 and 60 pesos per vehicle (US$3 to US$5).

At night, the four or five car keepers that control the area drink alcohol with the other groups “taking care” of other streets in the Roma neighborhood.

They used to sleep in three vehicles stationed in the street, according to the neighbors: a brown Ford Explorer truck with San Luis Potosí license plate of UZH-5767, a red Phantom with a plate of 840-XHX and another vehicle, JFA-9609 from Jalisco. All of these vehicles have since been taken away.

* * *

At the beginning of this year, because of the car keepers who insisted on parking cars on the curb, the doorman built some cement planters to block them. In one of them he planted a chayote plant. One day Toño awoke to find it destroyed, just as it was about to bear fruit. It was clearly a message.

On one occasion, Antonio left a paint can outside the building. Minutes later the can had been taken to reserve a parking spot.

Toño asked the car keeper to return the paint can to its place and he was threatened. He told him about his time in prison. He told him he wasn’t alone and that it wouldn’t do to mess with him.

The full group – four or five car keepers – began to harass him, insulting him when he crossed the street. They confronted him and challenged him to a fight. He avoided that. He preferred to go the long way around on the streets, so as to not see them.

He did not file a complaint with any of the authorities or tell people in the building where he worked. Only his wife and his best friend, who had known him since his arrival in the Roma, were aware of the situation.

On Monday 13 October at 4:30 in the morning, Toño left the building where he lived with his family to go to work. A group of men pushed him back inside and began to beat him with a metal rod and a triangular piece of steel.

In the assault, they broke his arm, shattered almost all his teeth, broke his nose and poked the metal rod into his right eye going through his skull.

The extensive description provided by the medical examiner in investigation FCH/CUH-7/T1/03459/14-10R3 noted: “laceration to right eye… wound runs from the temple along the skull and measures 28 centimeters.” That wound resulted in his death a week later on the night of Tuesday 21 October.

“When his wife heard the cries for help, she came down from the building and found Antonio lying on the ground, alone. She spoke to a neighbor and said, “they wounded Antonio.” Minutes later the police arrived. The attackers had already fled.

“It was ‘El Flaco,’ (the Skinny One),” Antonio managed to say to a police officer before falling unconscious and being taken to the Red Cross in Polanco.

A patrol car arriving at the crime scene saw three people fleeing, each one in a different direction. It followed the one who escaped on Álvaro Obregón Avenue but did not catch him.

The police did not collect evidence from the patio where Antonio had been beaten. They did not return for the scrap metal used to beat him until Sunday 19 October. By then, the rain had already washed away the injured man’s blood.

Toño’s wife could not file a complaint at the borough offices because of the serious state in which she had found him.

* * *

The building’s residents pressured the authorities for justice. They threatened blocking Álvaro Obregón Avenue in protest at Antonio’s beating.

On Friday 17 October, Mexico City’s prosecutors stopped El Flaco near the crime scene. When the police identified him as responsible, he blamed Antonio for trying to give him a ride in a car while he was drunk.

However, Antonio did not know how to drive and he never drank.

El Flaco gave a false first name to the authorities and when at last they found out his real name, it offered up his extensive criminal record.

The same day of his arrest, an operation began in the Roma-Condesa corridor where they arrested 35 car keepers. They had to use a traveling Civic Judge since the sector does not have its own Civic Judge.

On Wednesday 22 October, after Antonio died in the Polanco Red Cross, the investigation turned into a murder case, and the residents’ anger increased.

A week later, in a meeting held at the Universidad de Londres in the Roma neighborhood, the neighbors complained to borough officials that those who had been arrested returned a few days later to take control the streets. In the meeting they also commented on those car keepers who control collections in the parking metered areas.

Antonio’s wife had not had a run in with El Flaco, her husband’s alleged murderer. People keep on seeing two of the car keepers who harassed her husband in the street he once avoided. Now she avoids that street, too.

Antonio Ignacio Sánchez was buried on Thursday 23 October in Zihuateutla, his hometown. Hours later, his wife had to travel 200 kilometers to return to the borough so she could give her statement about what had happened.

The neighbors from the building where Toño started as a laborer lent money for the return of his body and its burial. They found a lawyer for his wife who would take charge of the case.

Officials have promised to enroll her in social programs in various institutions. Until now, nothing conclusive has been arranged.

In the building on Chihuahua Street they are looking for a man who can open and close the door, somebody with Antonio’s warmth, somebody who will bid them “good day.”

Journalist Samuel Adam reports for Grupo Reforma. Follow him on Twitter @AdamSamuel01. “El conserje murió cumpliendo su deber,” available at: http://www.reforma.com/aplicacioneslibre/articulo/default.aspx?id=382034&md5=f7d53550ce94df63e31682201bf38097&ta=0dfdbac11765226904c16cb9ad1b2efe#ixzz3I9wwtVNr.

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. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

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Municipality Sends Official to Cuba, Does not Know Why (Juan de Dios Olivas by EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

This article was published on 19 September 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

From Mayor of Juárez, Enrique Serrano Escobar´s Website.

From Mayor of Juárez, Enrique Serrano Escobar´s Website.

Municipality Sends Official to Cuba, Does not Know Why
By Juan de Dios Olivas (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

The legal director of the Ecology Department, Laura Yanely Rodríguez Mireles, has been absent this week from her duties in the Municipality for a trip to Cuba for a lawyers’ congress. Her immediate supervisor, Alejandro Gloria González, and the city’s mayor, Enrique Serrano Escobar, justified her absence by saying that she was representing local government. But they could not describe the type of representation or explain its purpose.

The official, who has already had several trips within the country or abroad this year, posted on social media networks that she would attend the Lawyering Congress (Congreso de Abogacía) from 16 to 18 September. This timing means that she used the national holiday but also workdays to absent herself.

“It’s an event that has to do with her official duties, but I don’t remember the name of the event,” said Mayor Serrano Escobar yesterday.

He indicated that the official was only going to represent the Municipality, and she did not have an official task to execute.

“She’s going in representation but I don’t remember what the event is called. I saw it once but right now I don’t remember,” he said.

When questioned about Rodríguez Mireles’s work absences the Mayor said that it was necessary to speak with her immediate supervisor, the director of the Ecology Department, Gloria González.

“You would need to speak with her boss because I don’t take care of the attendance record for all the employees. We are a workforce of 7,400,” the mayor emphasized.

In a separate interview with her immediate supervisor, Alejandro Gloria Gonzaléz said that he did not send her to Cuba and he said that he did not know why she went.

He emphasized that she was sent by the municipality’s administration.

“She’s going on the Municipality’s business, not directly that of the Department. In representation – that’s what it said on the form,” he said.

Gloria González confirmed that this year Yanely Rodríguez only had one authorized absence from her duties.

“This one and no more. I don’t have an official report for the others,” he noted.

However, the official has posted on social media about four trips this year related to her profession as a lawyer. One of these was to Puerto Vallarta from 23 to 26 July, during the workweek. Before that there were other similar trips to Monterrey and Aguascalientes.

El Diario tried to locate the official by cellphone but she could not be contacted.

Before coming to work in municipal administration Rodríguez Mireles was President of the Bar and Lawyers’ College and also a candidate for District 7 representative. She ran as a candidate of Mexico’s green party, Partido Verde Ecologista de México.

The Ecology Department is an agency where a month ago the Municipal Oversight Board (Sindicatura Municipal) reported at least a dozen unjustified absences based on a random, routine list sent to different organizations within the municipal government.

Journalist Juan de Dios Olivas reports for El Diario de Juárez. Follow him on Twitter: @JDOlivas. This article first appeared on 19 September 2014 under the title, “Manda Municipio a funcionaria a Cuba pero no saben a qué,” available at: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-19_c5f7688e/manda-municipio-a-funcionaria-a-cuba-pero-no-saben-a-que.

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. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

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Four Murders in Five Hours: A Midweek Evening in Ciudad Juárez in September 2014 (Staff, EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

These news briefs were published in the Diario de Juárez on 10 September 2014 (see below for links). They have been compiled and translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

Four Murders in Five Hours: A Midweek Evening in Ciudad Juárez in September 2014
By Staff (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

Translator’s Note: There have been at least 312 murders in Juárez this year as of this writing. PT

First Murder: Man Murdered Outside a Hardware Store in El Sauzal
Reported by Staff at 19:12
No photo

A man was shot to death yesterday afternoon outside a hardware store in El Sauzal. Police at the scene put on an operation searching for those responsible. They have not managed to arrest anybody.

The first reports indicate that a woman accompanied the victim. She was unhurt in the attack.

The approximately 30-year old man had at least three gunshot wounds.

The man was left in the street to the side of two parked vehicles; one a grey Eclipse where it is assumed a negotiation took place.

Witnesses suggested that the man and the woman were outside the hardware store when an individual went towards them. He shot the man three or four times point blank. He escaped running.

Agents from the prosecutor’s office and forensic investigators cordoned off the area on Ignacio Zaragoza Street between Puertos de Palos and Fernando Montes de Oca.

Officers also arrived who had gathered information about the partial identification of the person responsible, thereby initiating an operation to capture him.

Second Murder: Bus Driver Murdered
Reported by Staff at 19:14

Bus Driver Murdered (EL DIARIO)

Bus Driver Murdered (EL DIARIO)

A bus driver on Route 3B was shot to death this afternoon in the Estrella del Poniente bus terminal.

So far in 2014 five bus drivers have been murdered.

This latest crime took place in the bus station in Isla Salomón Street, next to La Presa dyke and a thermoelectric power station belonging to the Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad CFE).

Red Cross paramedics attended to the victim inside bus 670 but he was already dead.

Early reports indicate that the murderers apparently escaped in a green colored truck found abandoned a few blocks down the road.

Agents from the prosecutor’s office and forensic investigator cordoned off the crime scene. Municipal police officers conducted and operation in the area in search of those responsible.

Third Murder: Vendor at Hamburger Stand Murdered in the Azteca
Reported by Staff at 20:40

Vendor at Hamburger Stand Shot to Death (EL DIARIO)

Vendor at Hamburger Stand Shot to Death (EL DIARIO)

A trader was shot to death tonight at a hamburger stand located at the intersection of Aztecas Avenue with Tzetzales in the Colonia Azteca. An intensive police operation is underway.

This is the city’s third murder in the last four hours.

First reports indicate that the victim, Jesús Gabriel Flores Ontiveros, 27, was shot at least twice.

The report compiled at the crime scene shows that a man appeared at the hamburger stand acting like a customer. Soon after he shot Flores twice and gave flight.

City police arrived at the scene and mounted an operation in the neighborhood and adjacent areas in search of the person responsible.

Meanwhile, agents from the Prosecutor’s office cordoned off the crime scene while forensic investigators took care of the body and evidence collection.

This Wednesday afternoon a man was murdered outside a hardware store in El Sauzal. Later in the afternoon a bus driver was killed.

Fourth Murder, Fifth Hour: State Police Officer Murdered
Reported By Salvador Castro at 22:11

Murder of Deputy Commander in Chihuahua State Police (EL DIARIO)

Murder of Deputy Commander in Chihuahua State Police (EL DIARIO)

Last night in Hermanos Escobar Avenue an intense mobilization of police forces from across the city took place. There were reports of a person shot to death. According to the first reports he was a deputy commander in the State Police Force.

The report shows that the events took place in a taco stand outside a bar in the area. The victim was identified at the scene as Mario Alberto Sepúlveda García.

First reports indicate that the police officer was at the Tacotorro taco stand when armed men shot him to death.

The city police cordoned off the scene with the help of officers from the prosecutor’s office. From the outset they did not guard the secrecy of the victim’s identity.

This new case brings the total to four homicides in the city in the last five hours.

These news briefs were reported in Spanish by Reporting Staff at the newspaper El Diario de Juárez, in Chihuahua, Mexico. El Diario is a daily newspaper known for hard-hitting coverage, and its journalists are always at risk. The newspaper has a policy of not attaching a reporter’s byline to a story when organized crime might be involved. These articles appeared under various titles and are available as follows:

First Murder: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-10_b8776a8a/asesinan-a-hombre-afuera-de-ferreteria-en-el-sauzal/

Second Murder: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-10_27572c33/asesinan-a-chofer-de-transporte-publico/

Third Murder: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-10_f8760906/matan-a-vendedor-de-hamburguesas-en-la-azteca/

Fourth Murder: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-09-10_e2263d8b/asesinan-a-presunto-elemento-de-la-policia-estatal-unica/

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. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

 

The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ´Cuco´(Galia García Palafox, NUESTRA APARENTE RENDICIÓN)

This article appeared originally in the book, Tú y yo coincídimos en la noche terrible, a collection of essays about murdered or disappeared Mexican journalists, by Lolita Bosch and Alejandro Vélez Salas, published by Nuestra Aparente Rendición in 2012. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Photojournalist who Disappeared: Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’
By Galia García Palafox (Nuestra Aparente Rendición)

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Missing Since September 2011: Mexican Photojournalist Manuel Gabriel Fonseca

Cuco is the story about a boy who wanted to be a journalist.

He hadn’t finished secondary school but Manuel Gabriel needed to work to take money home. He got a job cleaning the house of Araceli Shimabuko, a journalist in his town.

Araceli stopped him from cleaning and set him to hand out the magazine she edited, Paisajes. He took a taxi every day from his neighborhood to the center of town. While she reported he distributed the magazine to government offices. It was the closest he had been to these two worlds: inside and behind the scenes at the town hall, a view from afar of its mayor, some press conference or other when he went with Araceli. Her secretary, that’s what some officials and journalists called him.

After work they ate something or met with other reporters. Manuel Gabriel was fascinated. He became friends with journalists in Acayucan, a town of 83,000 residents in the south of the state of Veracruz. He didn’t skip the opportunity of going with somebody covering an accident, a fire or a fight. Manuel Gabriel knew immediately what the news world wanted, especially when it came to the police blotter.

He started helping journalist friends collect information, making visits to the public prosecutor, taking photos. One day he came home with a newspaper in his hands. His parents and his brother, Ricardo, could hardly believe it: at home Manuel Gabriel was known as José and in the news world somebody nicknamed him ‘Cuco,’ and he had published a story. He was a sixteen-year old reporter.

From that moment on his parents asked him to take care with what he published. He mustn’t get himself in trouble.

Somehow he got hold of an old, roll camera. He took photos and he took the roll to be developed. From a cybercafé he sent photos and news to magazines where he had begun to work.

One day he went to El Diario of Acayucan. He asked to speak with its owner. He didn’t want to talk with anybody else. Marcos Fonrouge, chief editor, dealt with him. He had heard talk about him. He had read him. Cuco wanted work and there was a position open for a reporter covering the crime beat. The job was his.

Fights between drunkards, men who beat people, car crashes. Cuco covered those stories. “They all made him proud,” Fonrouge says. Night and day he looked for an exclusive. He took it for granted he would get it. “Hey, I have the exclusive,” that’s what he said to reporter colleagues when he met them. He spent nights in police stations or in the public prosecutor’s office to get the scoop. He got home early in the morning.

Don Juan, his father, remembers that some days he only used to come home to change clothes after a visit to the morgue, to get rid of the smell of a body. Other times they didn’t used to see him at home until dawn. “He used to get home when we were all asleep, at one a.m., two in the morning. He used to bring us memelas [akin to a tostada (hard tortilla) with savory toppings] and empanadas and he got us all up to eat,” says Ricardo, his little brother. “He used to tell us that he had seen dead people or accidents.” He used to tell, he tells. He used to arrive, he arrives. He was, he is. Everybody who talks about Cuco changes verb tenses. Not Cuco used to be, no: Cuco is.

Cuco liked the dead. On one occasion his boss sent him to cover a social meeting of lawyers. Cuco returned with photos so bad that Fonrouge knew that it was his way of telling him that he did not want to be sent to cover events that weren’t part of the crime beat.

After a spell at El Diario of Acayucan, Cuco went to El Mañanero, a new daily with five reporters and a circulation of three thousand issues. He graduated from film to a digital camera. He used to show it off to people who wanted to see. And he showed it off to those who did not want to see it, too.

Saturday 17 September 2011 was his day off. In the morning he played cards with his brother. Five peso hands. He didn’t have any luck at the cards. He lost.

Ricardo went to play football. Cuco went to El Mañanero’s offices to collect his pay. He spoke with his boss for a few minutes. He told him he was going to eat some tamales nearby. Cuco was always ready to party.

That night he didn’t return home to sleep. His father went to look for him. He did not find him. In the newspaper they were waiting for his Sunday stories. They never arrived. His phone went straight to voicemail.

On Monday his father went to ask at the newspaper. The journalists had begun to mobilize. A group went to look for him in a neighboring town where a party was rumored to have taken place. There was no sign of Cuco. Another group met in an ice cream parlor to decide what to do. One of them called a deputy prosecutor and they filed a complaint. They started to investigate: did anybody see him in the park with a friend on Saturday night? Another said that he had been at the morgue. Did a witness see him get into a car with a sandwich seller? It wasn’t a sandwich seller but the hotdog seller. Rumors and rumors. Criminal investigations. More rumors. Nothing convincing.

El Mañanero has a policy of not publishing news about criminal groups who might endanger its workers. Cuco had not published anything compromising. Maybe he saw something he shouldn’t have seen. Maybe they weren’t going for him. Maybe he opened his mouth too much. Maybe he fell in with bad company. More rumors.

 

Journalist Galia García Palafox is editor in chief at Milenio Digital. She has reported for news outlets in the United States and Mexico and graduated with a Master’s from the Columbia School of Journalism. This article was first published under the title, “Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández, ‘Cuco’,” and is available at: http://nuestraaparenterendicion.com/tuyyocoincidimosenlanocheterrible/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=84:manuel-gabriel-fonseca-hernandez#.VANQzWSwLBw.

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. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.

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At the Bus Terminal: Meet Guatemala’s Child Workers Struggling to Study (Oswaldo J. Hernández, Plaza Pública, Guatemala)

Fire Destroys the La Terminal School

Fire Destroys the La Terminal School

This article was first published in Guatemala’s Plaza Pública on 4 April 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Financial support for the translation of this article comes from an anonymous donor and is gratefully received.

At the Bus Terminal: Meet Guatemala’s Child Workers Struggling to Study
By Oswaldo J. Hernández (Plaza Pública, Guatemala)

One of the three schools operating in the bus terminal’s market disappeared when a fire destroyed a large part of the structure during the last week of March. (Translator’s Note: the bus terminal is known simply as, “La Terminal” PT.)

The educational center attended by 40 school age children was part of the Educational Program for Working Adolescent Boys and Girls (PENNAT). Getting an education there has always been different. It’s part of another reality. But something behind the burned out school remains: an educational system that operates on the sidelines of state coverage. This schooling provides a portrait of working children in Guatemala’s largest market. Those marginalized children who cannot get an education any other way.

In Guatemala’s largest market, an almost invisible scene repeats itself every morning, Monday through Friday. There are the usual comings and goings of buses and cargo. The selling, the cries, smoke, eateries, improvised stands, liquor, bars — the rush of it all, the places that sell meat, vegetables, grains and fruit. And right there, in that uproar, about 150 children – some of them vendors’ children, others of scarce resources, but mostly all workers – walk the aisles towards three different places inside La Terminal’s market (El Granero, La Tomatera, y El Techado). The Grain Aisle, the Tomato Aisle, and the Covered Section. These are also the children who steer themselves early in the morning towards studying in makeshift schools that operate in the innards of La Terminal.

These children cast silhouettes between the market stalls along this route. Just more among many. Small, invisible – until each one enters their classroom. At that moment they seem to say “we exist,” “we are here,” leaving behind for an instant the mass of more than ten thousand people who pass through each day.

Children attend school for two hours a day.  This is the school before the fire destroyed it.

Children attend school for two hours a day. This is the school before the fire destroyed it.

Fifteen-year old Catalina trod that path on the morning of 25 March 2014. As is her custom she wends – small and invisible – through the terminal. She does this every day, losing herself in the throng to finally arrive at her class for study in the fifth and sixth grade of primary school. She’s taking the two grades at the same time, the last stage before graduating from primary school in the PENNAT program. After she finishes her day, she buys fruits and vegetables in the market and in the afternoon returns home to work in another market in Zone 1. But this morning, when she arrived at the bus station, she couldn’t get in. “When I arrived, I saw the smoke, the firemen, and the market in flames. The first thing I thought about was my little school,” she says, a day later.

The Terminal’s covered market had burned, almost in its entirety. Inside, between the stalls on the second level, was the classroom attended by forty child workers from PENNAT. It was a small space. Every day the first task was to make a drawing. Each child expressed his or her feelings. Weeks before the fire pictures on the walls in Catalina’s classroom read, “I am happy,” “Today I feel happy,” “I feel sad,” and “I haven’t eaten.”

Self-esteem is important for the child's development. Most say they feel happy, but a couple say they are sad.

Self-esteem is important for the child’s development. Most say they feel happy, but a couple say they are sad.

Daniela is the only girl in her class in the covered market who comes to school in a uniform. She had written on the wall that morning: “I feel happy.” She also said that in spite of the fact that La Terminal’s school doesn’t require a uniform, she wears it so that “she doesn’t lose the custom.” According to her friends, María, Heidy, and Flory, Daniela has been in an orphanage where “they hit her.” Daniela, fourteen years old, is at the PENNAT school to finish fifth grade. “My grandmother works close. She says that I must study. We went to a school but they told me that since I was fourteen, I couldn’t enter at the right grade level. We never thought that if I grew up I would be left behind. But they wouldn’t take me. So they told my aunt about a school in La Terminal, and here I am, studying.”

La Terminal’s fire last 25 March destroyed Daniela’s classroom. Flames consumed one of the three PENNAT schools operating in La Terminal. Officials calculated the loss at some 80,000 Quetzales (US$10,000). Teachers in the program issued a press release asking for help: “We need to replace 40 triangular desks, 40 chairs, 3 bookshelves, 20 computers…” La Terminals is where they also have to provide computing classes to the 150 that still study inside the market. “We still have to pick ourselves up, to dust off the ashes,” says Lenina García, PENNAT director. “The children that lost their classroom have to study temporarily in our other two classrooms, in El Granero and in El Tomatera, while we begin to recover.”

In public schools, children older than ten  are considered too old for primary school.

In public schools, children older than ten are considered too old for primary school.

The school here has never been like a conventional school. The primary school inside the market is split into three phases each with two grades (first/second, third/fourth, fifth/six) with each phase taking one year. A child that attends the Terminal school graduates from primary in three years. In the first two phases, each child attends only two hours of school a day. The third phase of primary requires four hours a day. But the students are the school’s most important element: children who work; children who have not been able to continue their studies because the official education system has rejected them because they exceed the age limit for each grade; children with a different reality. It bears repeating that to study inside La Terminal is different from what happens in other primary schools in Guatemala, in schools that have their own buildings, with classrooms, with a central courtyard, where children wear uniforms and spend five hours a day on average in school, inside a classroom.

In this market, this gigantic center of business, some crucial factors make studying fundamentally different. “They are children who help their families. Poverty doesn’t give them any other option. Most get up before dawn, and from the early morning they are selling or helping out in some stall or other. They work. They help. For such reasons they don’t succeed in finishing official grade school, and out of necessity, many of them are obliged to abandon their studies completely,” explains García, while walking between the market’s aisles.

The smallest child goes to school. Resources for education are minimal but the enthusiasm of teachers and students is immense.

The smallest child goes to school. Resources for education are minimal but the enthusiasm of teachers and students is immense.

PENNAT is responsible for the educational programs in La Terminal. Similar projects exist in another seven markets in Guatemala: the Central Market in Zone 1; the San Martín Market in Zone 6; the Guarda Market in Zone 11; the Educational Center in San Pedro Sacatepéquez, zone 4; and in zone 1, the Mixco Educational Center; the San José Pinula Educational Center, and the Alliance with the Children’s Shelter (Lazos de Amor and Amor Sin Fronteras educational centers).

Around four thousand children work and live in La Terminal, according to its financial backers Save the Children and the German non-governmental organization THD. There are 150 children attending their three schools. In 2014 they hope to serve 600 children.

 

When age is the obstacle

After the fire, one of the schools that Daniela and Catalina will study in temporarily is the Granero. Around it there are hundreds of banana and grain stalls, as well as a charcoal seller. It’s hot under the damaged five-meter high zinc ceiling. The Granero is really a type of giant warehouse. Its inside is suitable for hundreds of divisions, fragments, spaces that form cement and wood stalls. The school operates there in a space of fifteen square meters.

A girl's snack: tortillas with sausage.

A girl’s snack: tortillas with sausage.

It’s morning. Some twenty children between seven and thirteen years old make circles with their work tables, shaping homemade Play dough, made with flour, water, oil, and powdered drink mix. Trapped under a thick fug and dirty surrounds, they are studying for the first and secondary grades of primary school; two grades at a time. That’s how the educational system works in La Terminal.

It’s weeks before the fire at La Terminal and the Granero children are concentrating. Nine-year old Hector explains that he spent more than two years trying to study first grade in a school in zone 18. “I stated at six, but I wasn’t progressing,” he says. His grandmother, Corina de la Cruz, a house cleaner, says that one day the teacher at the official school didn’t want to accept him, explaining that he had exceeded the ideal age to write and read, that he wasn’t managing to focus and wasn’t retaining information. That was the end of it. The school viewed him as a lost cause. They ended his educational career. They would no longer accept him. At the very moment when his grandmother was speaking, Hector read some paragraphs from an advertising leaflet. “He is learning here,” says his beaming grandmother, one hand palming her grandson’s head.

Sindi Paola, thirteen, comes up to show off a drawing. “A drawing,” she says enthusiastically and holds out a notebook covered in dust. She has formed the letter B with small balls of paper stuck down with white glue. In a delicate doodle, she has drawn a boot to show how to vocalize the sound, the form of the letter. There’s the drawing. At thirteen years old, this is the first year of her life in which Sindi Paola is in the first year of grade school. “I work. I clean tables. I help to pay for the room where my parents and my brothers live.” Then she goes on, taking a breath, “I want to learn to read.”

Sindi Paola: "I work. I clean tables. I help to pay for the room where my parents and my brothers live." And she studies: "I want to learn to read."

Sindi Paola: “I work. I clean tables. I help to pay for the room where my parents and my brothers live.” And she studies: “I want to learn to read.”

The schools in La Terminal run by PENNAT started eighteen years ago. “A group of education students, among them Professor Jairo González, went from stall to stall, teaching the sellers’ children to read and write. It was 1995,” says Lenina García. Since then the Education Ministry (MINEDUC), through the General Director of Extra-Curricular Education (DIGEEX), certifies the accelerated primary to provide education.

The content of the course books is based on the everyday lives of the children.

The content of the course books is based on the everyday lives of the children.

The textbooks have been adapted to the reality of La Terminal's working children.

The textbooks have been adapted to the reality of La Terminal’s working children.

“The reality for the children of this place is distinct and, in a certain way, incompatible with the official education program,” says García. “That’s why PENNAT started, an option close to the context of the market: an alternative education for boys, girls, and adolescents who, because of their economic condition have to work to survive. The most urgent consideration is that children must not abandon school. When they work, they don’t complete school grades, they get older and bit-by-bit the system excludes them. They can’t read or write. Left without opportunities,” she explains.

The Ministry of Education says a few weeks later that the ideal age to complete each grade of primary school does not rest on one factor. There’s nobody to give a reason to say this or that child is barred from admission because of age. However, teachers employ criteria that mean it is difficult to teach a child when they are older than their classmates. That’s what Patricia Rubio outlines. She’s DIGEEX’s current director – the entity that supports market-based education, even though it’s not a part of the state. “It is important to understand that DIGEEX does not assist children,” she says up front. “DIGEEX works with those who are too old for regular schooling. We mostly help adults. Our programs – Correspondence-based Education for Adults (PEAC) and Family Educational Centers for Development (NUFED) – are focused on people that have been excluded – because of poverty, displacement – and this situation challenges their studies. We help after the age of thirteen,” Rubio says.

The state does not have any options when it comes to avoiding children falling behind when they are over thirteen years old. In fact, the Ministry of Education waits until that age to help them, providing assistance programs through an accelerated primary that attempts to help them move forward. Adults attend, as do some adolescents. The DIGEEX offers primary in two phases: all of primary school in two years, but a very young child, lagging behind, and not yet 13 years old, cannot attend.

“That’s our mandate. It’s that way to avoid fighting with the regular school framework that covers ages from six to twelve years old,” maintains Rubio.

Meanwhile, hundreds of children from nine to twelve years remain in limbo in those cases where the teacher applies the criteria, or, when a school that tells them that “they are sorry,” that they excuse them,” “they forgive them,” but that they can’t finish first grade if they are already “too old.”

She is the oldest. She takes care of her two brothers while her parents work. The boys go with her to school.

She is the oldest. She takes care of her two brothers while her parents work. The boys go with her to school.

That was Hector’s case: after being rejected by the official system, he began studying in the Terminal in the PENNAT school. In practice, it was the only option left to him. That was when nobody was betting on his future. Rubio added that in spite of age, schools are obliged to provide primary education but it’s recognized that there are few teachers who will support a child of ten or more years in their first grade classes. On first sight, they distort things. Statistical, ethical, and psychological distortions.

A System that Adds and Subtracts

Adding. The child workers of La Terminal learn to count before they go to school.

Adding. The child workers of La Terminal learn to count before they go to school.

When was age linked to learning by grades? How did pedagogy establish exclusion from primary school for a child who exceeds a grade level by two years? How to understand the decision to establish such criteria?

Félix Alvarado, an education specialist, says that it is likely that the origins of age-linked primary grades, as with school-based education more generally, comes from industrial production in the first half of the nineteenth century. “They needed to learn just enough to start work in a factory at around age 10 or 12, if that’s what they were going to do.”

When school gets out, the children have to run home to deal with their reality: working to survive.

When school gets out, the children have to run home to deal with their reality: working to survive.

In DIGEEX they don’t offer a solid response. They admit that even though they have to help this population no criteria defining that population actually exists.

MINEDUC’s overage school rate (the percentage of students behind by two or more years according to their corresponding grade) implies that a number of students will chance their fate: at primary level, the figure for those children who exceed the age of their grade level has remained stable in recent years at around 22 percent. But in 2009, something strange happened in primary schools: the overage primary school population surged by more than half, to 51.69 percent.

Perseverance and commitment. Maybe they haven't learned these words at school yet but every day these children already practice them.

Perseverance and commitment. Maybe they haven’t learned these words at school yet but every day these children already practice them.

Enrique Maldonado, an economist with the Central American Fiscal Studies Institute (ICEFI), has analyzed this sudden peak: “Primary school coverage increased, the number of children served grew, but that was the year in which conditional transfers began. The error of those programs was that there was no pedagogical strategy that differentiated between children in extreme poverty that had never been to school with those that normally went to school. Thus there was a distortion in the indicators of internal efficiency and more assistance to overage school children in primary school.” From that year on, there has been a mass desertion from primary school. “For 2009, in first grade of primary school enrollment was 624,359 children; 567,830 in 2010; 530,976 in 2011, and 480,039 in 2012, meaning that in four years the national education system expelled around 150,000 students, just in the first grade of primary school.”

— What are the general causes of overage schoolchildren?

— First, there are bad teachers in first grade. When a school gets a new teacher, without experience, from the moment of their entry the other teachers conspire to assign them to the first grade. And, second, the pre-primary coverage the state provides. In recent years, the state has failed to cover half of the children between four and six years old. Children enter the first grade of primary school without any preparation.

— Why did so many children drop out after conditional transfers?

— They did not find what they were looking for. The children didn’t find teachers who spoke their language, nor books in their language, nor utensils, nor desks, and even food and schools were scarce. One of the errors in implementing the conditional transfer program was to have first not strengthened public school supply, responds Maldonado.

After studying, she helps her mother sell used toys.

After studying, she helps her mother sell used toys.

The primary and pre-school educational system gives the sense of a giant paradox of advances and setbacks: rate improvements followed by declines. A framework containing obstacles against school enrollment if a child is too old, and has to repeat a grade several times. Or it amasses dropouts in those cases where access diminishes at each education level. In 2009, primary coverage in Guatemala reached 98.7 percent; but in 2012, according to MINEDUC figures, it dropped to 85.1 percent. There are highs and lows: the children who abandon school, of still more exceeding school age; the intricacies of the system’s paradox; among the percentages; the rates of child work. And still PENNAT works in the markets. PENNAT takes on most of the excluded, the product of the advances and the setbacks.

Doing chores and distributing tortillas made and sold by his mother are some of the things he has to do when he leaves school.

Doing chores and distributing tortillas made and sold by his mother are some of the things he has to do when he leaves school.

The Child Worker

The Tomato Aisle is La Terminal’s area for bulk tomato sales and because of its age may be one of its most emblematic features. Resistance by its tomato sellers to any intervention by the city authority has been strong and ceaseless. They have organized themselves. It’s the most formal face of the informal economy. Battle hardened. Within the Tomato Aisle, however, the sellers have given space over to PENNAT. Usually it’s the sellers meeting room but from Monday to Friday it functions as a school. The school population has reached 60. It was one of the places that remained intact after the fire. Students begin the second phase there: third and fourth grade of primary.

At ten in the morning, the children sing a song. Their voices may be heard from outside. “When they come full of energy, we need to drain their batteries a little. We do that by singing,” says teacher Jenny Chocochic. Around her there are children that have bootblack on their hands. Others say they sell gum in the market. One girl sells atole. A boy helps his mother distribute tortillas throughout La Terminal’s aisles. Their ages range between nine and fourteen years old. “If there are more than two hours of school I wouldn’t have time to study,” says Mateo, who helps his family run a market stall. “I am going to finish fifth grade as quickly as I can,” he adds.

La Terminal's children quickly turn into adults. Not because of biology, but because of their responsibilities, taken on at an early age. He's a seller and he takes care of his sister.

La Terminal’s children quickly turn into adults. Not because of biology, but because of their responsibilities, taken on at an early age. He’s a seller and he takes care of his sister.

Most work on the outskirts of the market, where they also sleep and study. Speaking with the children you understand the market is their world, their immediate universe. They have tough histories to share – of alcoholism, separated parents – families that have had to travel to the capital to rent a small room to survive. Overcrowding. “One day we saw a dead man,” says nine-year old Gerson, “he’d been shot. He was a thief. They shot him in the head.” Lucia and Jocelyn, seven and eight years old respectively, live nearby. The girls were abandoned by their mother in the house of their grandmother, María Gaspar. The sisters do their homework beside a bus and near the tortilla stall where they help their grandmother. “I take care of them like they were my daughters, my little girls,” Zacarías jokes, who stands behind them in the sun, drunk, and who says that he does whatever in the market. The girls eye him not with fear but just normally. Jenny the teacher says, “They already have another world view. They know a lot of bad things about the world. They know about sexuality, abuse, and death. They come to their studies with a mountain of knowledge and prior learning. We just adjust this education to fit their surrounds.”

Homework done between sales. No time to lose.

Homework done between sales. No time to lose.

“Because of work, many of them are not accustomed to dancing, to thinking, to choosing. We look at them as an achievement. Like when they dance or sing. Our first objective is to restore the magic of being able to dream. And then establishing a way they can achieve their dream,” says Lenina García.

Questioning Reality

According to the Survey of National Living Conditions (ENCOVI) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2011 850,937 children were working in Guatemala. Child is defined as between the ages of seven and seventeen years old. Of those, 60 percent are under fourteen years old. It’s estimated that children produce twenty percent of Gross National Product (GNP).

 

Beside the notebook is today's work.

Beside the notebook is today’s work.

“For the ILO, child work is an outdated practice that must be fully punished, equally dealt with everywhere. UNICEF’s focus, however, and even children’s protection organizations have turned that process on its head. They proceed from the view that to prevent or eradicate child labor the first step is to invest in education,” Garciá explains.

– What do you tell a child so that he or she can stop working?

– Our model focuses more on how boys and girls begin to question the reality that surrounds them. They begin to be agents of their reality and not its objects. If they work they have to know that this work is dignified and that they are not going to allow anybody to exploit their rights or abuse them. We try to plant this seed. This child is going to continue studying, continuing to educate themselves, and at some point the cycle will be broken, says García.

In DIGEEX, Estela Tavico, head of the Department of the Method (Modalidad) of Distance Education, emphasizes that in certifying a program like PENNAT, the Ministry is not supporting child labor. Not in its worst forms. “We acknowledge the value of work. We can’t deny that reality. We know that before these children have breakfast they have already sold fifty jocote, a box of gum, or made five corn tortillas. It’s work. Our task, however, is to provide education. We acknowledge the value of work. But our goal is to support an option among all these difficulties.”

By law MINEDUC cannot directly certify institutions like PENNAT. Its legal charter does not cover that type of education, with those sorts of characteristics. “As luck would have it, that’s where the DIGEEX – that’s where we come in. Since we are a subsystem of extra-scholarly education, we have other characteristics, other goals, other objectives, and a distinct nature. So, we can approach you and say, ‘Yes, it’s possible. We can and do support them.’ To support this population, the legal backing for that support occurs via a ministerial agreement,” explains Tavico.

The Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) does not think the results of success in these programs can be measured. Nor does it collect statistics on programs for adults and children over thirteen, those from the DIGEEX. Wendy Rodríguez, deputy director of educational projects puts it this way: “In the educational subsystems – in and outside school – there’s a unit that is specifically in charge of evaluation and research in education. It assesses math and language. Those are key indicators about how well things are turning out. However our programs – the ones that deal with overage children in accelerated primary and basic programs – are characteristically different: neither in terms of timetables nor calendars can they be seen as school-based. Since they work the whole year this difference has an implication for the statistics. There’s no beginning and no end. In 2013, participants numbered 72,098 people.”

That figure counts adults and children older than thirteen. The child workers of La Terminal were included.

They say at PENNAT that some of their graduated students “come back to teach.” Some have graduated as accountants, from high school, as teachers. García says that they are taught to be critical about the individual’s role in society, and sensitive to gender equality. “About a year ago on May Day (1 May) we celebrated with the working children. They came dressed as what they wanted to be later in life. There were teachers, secretaries, lawyers, and accountants. They want to pursue interesting professions. They don’t just want to be sellers.”

There's no time for breaks. When school finishes, work begins.

There’s no time for breaks. When school finishes, work begins.

– In terms of the decision to work, are there opportunities outside La Terminal market?

– You mean how to break the vicious cycle of child labor. It’s like giving them back a dream.

Education in the market means that La Terminal’s child workers don’t stay marginalized while they grow up.

Journalist Oswaldo J. Hernández reports for Plaza Publica. This article first appeared bearing the title, “Trabajar y estudiar en La Terminal para no quedar fuera del sistema,” and is available at: http://www.plazapublica.com.gt/content/nunca-creimos-que-crecer-nos-dejaria-fuera. 

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. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

 

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The Ranch of Horror (Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.Expediente.Mx)

This crónica was first published on Blog.Expediente.Mx on 19 June 2014 and has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Keys of the Murdered and the Missing of El Diamante, Tres Valles, Veracruz. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Keys of the Murdered and the Missing of El Diamante, Tres Valles, Veracruz. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Ranch of Horror
By Ignacio Carvajal (Blog.Expediente.Mx)

Tres Valles, Veracruz.- “Can you take us to the graves at El Diamante, please?” somebody asks an official from Tres Valles township. Until that question, the bureaucrat had been welcoming, good-humored even; but on hearing where they wanted to go, his face reddened. He looked around from place to place. His chin trembled. He did go there, but reluctantly and at the first opportunity he fled – full throttle, ignoring speed bumps, puddles, and potholes.

The entrance to El Diamante is the opening to Eden. At the end of the meadow on this ranch, once the property of the late Fernando Cano Cano, first mayor of Tres Valles, trees are laden with fruit, a fish farm to one side. Pastures spring up at the corners to the property. A river runs through it.

It’s a golden dream for any farmer. But for the thirty-one people who were murdered and buried here, it’s where they went from paradise to hell.

After three months, last Monday night Navy personnel finally acknowledged it as a burial site. Nobody could have imagined that, under leafy trees on one side of a ravine hid horror: death, suffering, and shame half-covered by soil.

A smell hovers over the site. Green flies swarm around rotting flesh, crawling with maggots. There are thirteen holes. From each one they have exhumed two or three people. The investigators left a short time ago. They worked with nothing. Help came from soldiers stationed in Xalapa and Veracruz.

One person who was there, and whose identity is being protected, says that the investigating agents couldn’t cope. After hours of digging and removing rotten flesh, exhaustion overwhelmed them.  Officers from the Veracruz Investigations Division (AVI) had to lend a hand, putting their firearms to one side to pull on rope to extract the dead. “The exhumed bodies were tied up. It was complicated because they didn’t have hands or feet. Sometimes we had to help.”

“We tired from pulling up so many bodies. There was this moment when we had to shovel and blood and rotting stuff came out,” the official said.

 

OFFERINGS TO THE SKINNY WOMAN

Dirty dishes. Leftover food. Smelly mats. Damp towels. Pirated CDs. Dirty clothes scattered all over. Medicine. A shrine to the Santa Muerte. Black candles. The Seven Powers of Santería.  A toilet overflowing with crap.

It’s the inside of the house located on the rise of the El Diamante ranch. In this place, about two kilometers from the police station and town hall of Tres Valles, twenty-four men and seven women were murdered. How was it possible to massacre so many people so near to the police station?

Until a few days ago the inhabitants were a group of hitmen. They got into the ranch through a breach that runs from the city, along railway tracks, through groves of trees and a red clay trail.

Inside the building, what causes most fear is the image of the Santa Muerte.  It’s clearly a copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà, with Christ lying at the feet of the skinny woman.

The thirty-centimeter image is mounted on a box with a twenty-liter capacity. Around it are more than a dozen candles of the Seven Powers of Santería: Obatalá, Elegguá, Oggún, Orunlá, Yemayá, and Ochún.

More candles are placed inside the dwelling. They could be more than forty, or thirty-one. Perhaps the same number of victims buried in the clandestine cemetery.

Still inside, one finds chile, tomatoes, a frying pan filled with potatoes and sausage and on a chair, a saucepan filled with potatoes. They were about to eat. At present, the scant unofficial information provided by military sources doesn’t mention detainees, pointing to a timely escape.

The mats – from the National System for Overall Family Development (DIF) – stand out, strewn all over. It’s a mess left behind by officials who didn’t pay attention to a single detail: dozens of keys left behind beside the well – keys to houses, cars, drawers, and boxes. Keys that once belonged to the people dragged here and murdered.

 

POSSESSED

El Diamante is a watchtower: from its rise there’s a view of Tres Valles, and on the other side a meadow sown with fine, nourishing pasture. A sonorous ravine nearby snakes below the ranch, shaded by fruit trees.

Police reports call it an “abandoned ranch.” But its infrastructure looks in good shape.

In the town they confirm that it belonged to the late Fernando Cano Cano, a member of the Party of Institutional Revolution (PRI) and the first mayor of Tres Valles. Nobody can say how a group of murderers and death fanatics took over the ranch.

The difference between the last tenants and the owners is clear: they were very religious. In a corner, there’s a chapel to the Virgin of Juquila.

The Chapel to the Virgin of Juquila at El Diamante (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Chapel to the Virgin of Juquila at El Diamante (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Inside the three-by-three chapel, with an altar in the middle, and cubbyholes in its walls, are mats, used condoms, excrement. There are signs of frantic sex, wild nights, alcohol, torture, and decapitation.

The thugs used this place for everything but praying to Christ’s mother. Her images are no longer in the cubbyholes: they have been destroyed.

In the chapel, they didn’t leave flowers or candles to the Virgin. But they left bottles of whisky and a bag of bread rolls to Death. An offering.

 

HOPE LIVES ON

The smell of death rattles the nerves of all of Cosamaloapan and its neighboring villages. “I had to wash my clothes again because I’d hung them out to dry the day the bodies arrived. But the smell penetrated everything and it stinks,” relates one of the people who lives by the morgue here in Cosamaloapan.

The smell lingers in the air and pervades all of Cosamaloapan, penetrates the poorest neighborhoods, the low-income areas where there are the most cases of missing people.

“We came here from Xalapa [the state capital, 300 kilometers away], because we knew there were a bunch of dead people here and in our neighborhood four boys are missing. A truck blocked their path and took them,” says a woman, who along with the others, seems not to be made sick by the smell or the heat.

They are wives, mothers, aunts, grandparents or partners of disappeared people. For them, Cosamaloapan and the neighboring towns amount to a badly healed wound bursting with pus. They are desperate.

“Sometimes I just want to find her and be done with it. Tell me if she’s dead or whatever,” says one woman, whose daughter, Wendy Cruz, has been missing since May.

Her granddaughter, Wendy’s daughter, holds a photo of her mother: dressed in a red blouse and tight white pants. Just beside the Papaloapan River. The last time they saw her she was going to Alvarado to eat with a friend.

Wendy Cruz. Last Seen went she went to Alvarado for a meal with a friend. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Wendy Cruz. Last Seen when she went to Alvarado for a meal with a friend. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Another family of women and children seeks shade under a fig tree. The oldest carries a photo of her sixteen-year old grandson who went to a party in Tuxtepec two weeks ago and never returned.

“They treated us very badly inside. We aren’t from here. We came from Oaxaca. Inside the morgue they told us we should deal with things in Oaxaca. They say there aren’t any bodies here. That they took them all to Xalapa,” says one of the women.

At some moment in the afternoon they could not wait any longer. They were huddled around the entryway where at least two stood waiting. They approached the slabs. They raised the sheet from one corpse and confirmed that it wasn’t their relative. They entered with fortitude. They left alone.

 

JOINED TOGETHER IN PAIN

On the Cosamaloapan-Acayucan highway, two hundred kilometers from the graves, a man enjoys some pineapple juice, happily looking at the cargo on his truck: twenty coffins.

The man has been informed about the region’s toughest news. “Clandestine Graves at El Diamante in Tres Valles.” Rather than being afraid, the funeral director in Cuenca del Papaloapan seems energized. He begins making calls to all his contacts, mostly those at the morgue, whom he rewards if they pass on the news to him first. He knows that the cargo he’s bringing from the Federal District won’t be of any use if he doesn’t hurry up and do the paperwork at Cosamaloapan’s deputy prosecutor’s office. “I don’t think they are going to be enough. We are going to have to ask for more,” said the driver.

Journalist Ignacio Carvajal reports from Veracruz. Follow him @nachopallaypaca on Twitter. This article was first published under the title, “El rancho del horror,” at blog.expediente.mx available at: http://blog.expediente.mx/nota.php?nId=6974#.U7NQUI1dVjY.

 

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. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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Urban Muralists Treat City as Canvas (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This article was first published in RíoDoce on 22 June 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Urban Muralists Treat City as Canvas
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

Yeye

Yeye, Murdered First Aid Worker

The walls speak. They shout.

The strokes, the colors, the silhouettes on the outsides of the old houses, low joists, on the fences of abandoned properties: they catch eyes, trap stares, and when the observer stops a moment, stays in front of the graffiti, the stencil, the aerosol, the acrylic, there are reflections and conversations, dreams and feelings.

Fingerprints of the new and old asphalt artists touch Andrade or Obregón avenues, the walls of the new promenade, historic downtown’s old buildings, the city’s police boxes, and Buelna or Rosales streets. They mark space, express their own resistance or that of those they represent, criticize, protest, and leave their mark.

Doctor Feis is one of these rebels. He seems to antagonize the untouched walls and the plain whites of some façades. On one wall he painted the face of Genoveva Rogers, nicknamed Yeye, the paramedic killed by gunshots when armed men ran after a man – he fled into the Red Cross – and a bullet killed the young woman.

Her face was painted on the wall of an abandoned police box, rescued by youth movement Recuperarte in the 10 de Mayo neighborhood. They are spray can murals and Doctor Feis has exhibited his work in states like Oaxaca, Baja California, Mexico City, Puebla, Querétaro, and Baja California Sur.

“To paint walls was mere fancy, custom. But then it became a hobby, and now it’s become a way for me to express myself,” says the 26-year old youth, originally from the capital city of Culiacán, a graduate of the Autonomous University of Sinaloa’s art school.

On Andrade Avenue, between Ángel Flores and Rosales Streets, on the so-called Paseo del Ángel he painted the face of Sandra Luz Hernández, the activist shot to death in May while looking for her son Edgar Guadalupe, missing since February 2012.

In Yeye’s case, he did it out of friendship. He knew her family. It was a way to keep her memory alive and celebrate the arc of her life. But Sandra Luz’s murder pained him: the impunity, the violence that has smothered and stuck to Sinaloa’s society, where silence, surrender, and indifference rule in the empire of bad things, where people order killings and put their fingers on the trigger, ready to shoot.

Doctor Feis explains that he first painted commonplaces, but now he wants to express social concerns, nourishing collective memory: the deaths of three musician friends in Lomas del Bulevar, the disappearance and murder of one more friend in La Primavera – these are facts that mark his outlines, the colors, the blood, and the anger – of his street murals.

“There, on the walls, it’s transcendent. It stays. In newspapers, it’s a momentary thing. Like what happened to Genoveva, then with Sandra Luz. Things happen and everybody forgets. You can play protest songs in the Cathedral every day, but the song sticks with you after it is played. The mural remains. That’s why I put one on the Paseo del Ángel, a place of entertainment, so that it disrupts things, generates something,” he says.

Sandra Luz

Sandra Luz, murdered activist

Wrong Steps

Early in the morning, while the city sleeps and the patrol cars howl and luxury trucks whine, the wall warriors take to the shadows to write the city’s history – its disasters and dreams – on a canvas of brick, limestone, and cement. The Watchavato, maybe the most famous artist of Culiacán’s tarmac, paints with a stencil technique, signing like a dog pissing on posts and corners.

One of those giant dollars was placed on Obregón and Madero a few weeks ago: “Infinite thanks” read the sign, and in its center, an effigy of Jesús Malverde. A few days later, in a spunky show of censorship, city police destroyed the paper sculpture. Now you can just see its disfigured remains.

There, on walls shrouded in darkness, brushes shout, spray cans swear, ink cries, dripping down walls that are overcome by time, limestone and dust. Hooded they come brandishing their hardware, then the officers in their patrol cars, some more than others up early, drunk, drifters. Nothing’s going on, we are working, they respond and don’t want to be provoked or challenged. Occasionally they work in groups, bring cameras and lights to see or to improve the looks of the blows and paint strokes. Like cats in heat, some work alone: caterwauling over the fence, a wall, a cement canvas, making the city shout what its citizens have shut up about and what the government covers up.

Shouts. A cement canvas so the city can shout what the government covers up.

Shouts. A cement canvas so the city can shout what the government covers up.

To Resist
He calls himself Diske One. That’s his name. From Culiacán, 24 years old, time spent living with the mountain folk of Sinaloa and Durango. Down and out, nothing more, among the Huicholes and Tepehuanes, Mayos and Yoremes, documenting them, learning from them, understanding them, embracing that life, why they do things, their long-term marginalization.

One of his works, maybe his most imposing and unsettling, is on Rafael Buelna Street in front of the Sinaloan Art Museum (Masin): it’s of a red Huichol, decked out, deer head, spilled paint, playing a violin on his left shoulder, on a scarred canvas, bare bricks, half-eaten walls, hands up in surrender.

He says that as a child the panhandlers frightened him. That fear stayed with him through his teenage years and as a challenge his father used to hand him coins to give to the indigenous people and beggars. When they saw he had money, they danced for him. Now he doesn’t fear them, he admires them. He paints them, follows their struggle and their marches, and does the same with the Huicholes and other indigenous communities.

“Each time I finish painting them, I’m still busy. There’s so much about them to paint: like the fight of the Huicholes in Wirikuta, where they want to build a mine that the indigenous people oppose. They won’t be able to do that to them. They are very unified, not like us. They have power, beliefs. They resist and say, ‘go fuck yourselves.’ That’s what I am telling people with my work: they resist, they exist, they are here,” he says.

This type of expressions on the city’s walls, he adds, represents a cry of criticism, or protest, of social and collective reflection, about what’s happening in Sinaloa and the rest of the country.

“Artists have a social commitment to the people’s problems, their hopes and dreams, their needs and worries. We have to renew ourselves, too. To look for new ways forms of expression, to find new techniques and themes, to keep on creating,” he emphasized.

In Culiacán’s different corners are at least five of his works, all some sort of mural, using a spray can and acrylic paint. They express the destruction of the environment, indigenous people that fight against marginalization and injustice, to keep on going and resist.

And maybe with these lines, colors, and silhouettes they will stop the fences from being quiet, the city from staying silent, and crumbling.

Huichol

Huichol

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 article was first published under the title, “Toman muralistas urbano ciudad como lienzo,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/toman-muralistas-urbanos-la-ciudad-como-lienzo.

 

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. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

 

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St. Jude the Apostle (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This Malayerba column was published in RíoDoce on 15 June 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator’s Note: This column contains strong, some might say foul, language. PT

 

St. Jude the Apostle

St. Jude the Apostle — A Recent Portrait

 

St. Jude the Apostle
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

Get down. I will kill you if you turn around and look at me, motherfucker. Get down and don’t move. Now you are screwed, asshole. You are fucked. You’ll see what happens when you don’t pay. For going around and asking, asking, asking for money. Now you are going to pay because you are going to pay. You are going to pay, asshole. With your life.

Click. The man loaded a clip. There were three of them. One of them had him face down, black boots in his back, pressing on him, kicking him. It was seven in the morning when he left his house to walk in the park. They were on top of him in a blink of an eye and now he was face down, headed to who knows where.

Sweat. More sweat. On the car floor, with ears stuck to the dirty carpet, he seemed to hear the rocks and the tarmac. They are going to kill me. He knew it when the car began to bounce: they were going over dirt. We are going up the mountain. Hey you bastard, your time has come. His t-shirt was soaked and he hadn’t even been able to take his morning walk.

They are going to kill me. Now he wasn’t Fernando, Alonso, or César. He was just a hulk, a sack of potatoes. For these gunslingers he was just an object. A dead dog that was suffering because it knew it was going to be put down. He ignored what they were talking about and what they wanted. He thought that maybe there was some confusion but he changed his mind when they mentioned the man who wanted him taken: you are that guy, you live here, your wife’s name is ….

He shat himself. They pulled him out by his hair. They winded him by kicking him in the stomach. He thought they were going after his jaw or breaking three ribs. Click. He heard as an echo what he was seeing. He felt the gun barrel over his neck. Fuck. They are going to kill me. One of the killers told the man with the gun that they should get further away; otherwise they were going to get spattered.

That’s what was going on when the phone rang. It was their leader. Eight hundred thousand pesos. Eight hundred thousands pesos, but right now, asshole. Or you are going to get fucked. We are going to cut you down. They came to an agreement. He asked for the phone so he could speak with the manager of his business and with his wife. He told them to give them what they want. Give them everything. Everything they ask for. If you don’t give it to them, they will put me in the ground.

They wrote checks. They got the cash together. They sold this and that. A half hour later and nothing. The cell phone rang again. The guy who answered it said it was the boss. Eight seconds of talk. Okay. We are going to let him going. They are bringing the money. You saved yourself, asshole. You saved yourself and we are going to leave you alone.

Face down again. Drooling on the dirty carpet. Sweating the sweat of four days’ walk. They got to the city. Suddenly they stopped. Get out. Don’t look back and don’t look at the plates. A kick. He fell on the ground. You did it, shouted the one who drove. Now go and pray to St. Judas, asshole. And they left.

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, “San Judas Tadeo,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/san-judas-tadeo/.

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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Torture in Mexico: Human Rights Organization Takes On Another Four Torture Cases from Ciudad Juárez (Martín Orquiz, El Diario de Ciudad Juárez)

This article was first published in El Diario de Ciudad Juárez on 10 June 2014. It has been published without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator´s Note: The MxJTP is committed to translating articles about torture in Mexico. Along with the four new cases the subject of this article, the El Diario de Juárez also makes reference to the torture of the five people once accused of the 2010 car bomb in Ciudad Juárez. After more than three years in prison, those five torture victims were released in March 2014 – after they were released they interviewed about their experience by journalist Daniela Rea for newspaper El Universal. On a recent visit to Mexico, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – who did not visit Ciudad Juárez – confirmed that torture is “widespread” in the country. And, for over the past decade, AnimalPolítico confirmed that not a single public official has been punished for this serious crime. PT

 

Torture in Mexico: Human Rights Organization Takes On Another Four Torture Cases from Ciudad Juárez
By Martín Orquiz (El Diario de Ciudad Juárez)

Defense attorneys from the Center for Human Rights Paso del Norte (Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte, CDHPN) have four other cases similar to those accused of extortion and freed after a court agreed Monday that their confessions were obtained under torture.

And, according to the organization’s spokesperon, Carlos Murillo González, another eight case files are under evaluation to determine if they share characteristics required to take on their defense.

Until now, three cases exist where it has been proved that police officers tortured people to “confess” their participation in various criminal acts. Among these are the cases of five border residents who were accused of detonating a car bomb in 2012 but who were later accused of carrying arms, drug possession and of links to organized crime.

The fourth case was not publicised to the same extent, according to the spokesperson, but it did share the same characteristics as the others: those accused were young men living in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez, tortured to admit their participation in criminal activities.

Murillo González added that these cases all share various features: the alleged perpetrators were taken from their homes by police officers from different forces but their reports state the arrest took place elsewhere and under different conditions.

In the cases currently under discussion, Carlos Murillo expects them to be successful because each undergoes a rigorous selection process before the CDHPN takes on their defense.

The CDHPN spokesperson referred to brothers Juan Antonio and Jesús Iván Figueroa Gómez who, along with Misael Sánchez Frausto, have been imprisoned on charges of extortion for two years and five months. However, a court has annulled the evidence presented by the Public Prosecutor, determining that it was obtained through torture.

Another person accusd in the same case, the underage brother of the Figueroa Gómez was declared innocent for lack of proof in August 2013. All of these accused were arrested on 18 January 2012.

As recently as last March, the Federal Attorney General (PGR) withdrew the charges against the five men arrested and accused of involvement in detonating the 2010 car bomb.

Noé Fuentes Chavira, Rogelio Amaya Martínez, Víctor Manuel Martínez Rentería, Gustavo Martínez Rentería and Ricardo Fernández Lomelí were freed after more than three and a half years in prison.

These five men tested positive for torture under the Istanbul Protocol, a diagnostic tool used to assess if a person was subjected to torture or degrading treatment.

Newspaper sources establish that on their arrest they were accused of organized criminal membership, crimes against the health code for possession of marijuana, and having firearms reserved exclusively for the Armed Forces.

Murillo González mentioned that these cases have a documented modus operandi by police: officers arrive at homes and detain men whom they consider belong to gangs.

“Those arrested are young and poor, that’s the way the police works,” he added.

In regards accusations of torture used for self-incrimination, Murillo González said that another four cases are still pending and another eight are in a CDHPN review process: each case is submitted to a selection process that can take several months to see if the human rights organization can take on their defense or not.

Among the people that the CDHPN is currently defending are those accused of extortion, robbery and belonging to organized crime.

Yet there are still many others who come to the CDHPN to request information, looking for help, Murillo González says. These people often decide not to continue with their cases because they are subject to police violence, receive threats, and refuse to go further. The CDHPN only acts when those affected want to file a formal complaint.

“They come for help but they don’t want to follow any further steps. But we’ve been able to put together a systematic view of the way the police work, they way they attack certain social groups, mostly against youth from poor neighborhoods,” he said.

The police officers, he added, arrest somebody and force them through illegal means to say who their accomplices were, then forcing them to identify them.

“At any hour of the day or night they invade their homes and remove the youth who are implicated. Then they use torture to make them confess, and this practice is something we frequently see,” he specified.

Murillo González, who is a sociologist, mentioned that on average each week about two or three people seek out psychological assistance because they have been experiencing threats or torture by the police. They tend to ask for help but then they don’t go any further.

There is no set protocol for the cases that the CDHPN accepts, but they do share the following features: the affected come from a vulnerable group and, if torture occurred, the CDHPN reviews the testimony to see if they coincide with the facts and they even investigate the person’s trustworthiness.

“We are accused of defending criminals, but we defend human dignity,” Murillo González emphasized during the interview. “It falls to the authorities to prove what the accused did; to us they are innocent.”

Journalist Martín Orquiz reports for El Diario de Ciudad Juárez. This article was first published with the title, “Defiende organización otros 4 casos de tortura,” and is available at: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-06-10_b9a41638/defiende-organizacion-otros-4-casos-de-tortura/.

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. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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My Country, You Are Watching Me Leave (Rodrigo Soberanes Santín, En El Camino, Periodistas de a Pie)

This story is part of a series produced by En El Camino by Periodistas de a Pie, and funded by the Open Society Foundations. It has been translated pro bono, and without permission, by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

My Country, You Are Watching Me Leave
By Rodrigo Soberanes Santín (En El Camino, Periodistas de a Pie) 

What lies behind the numbers of tens of thousands of migrants who cross the border each year? Statistics suggest that people in their tens of thousands cross into Mexico without migratory documents – mostly from Honduras. But these figures don’t explain the reasons behind the exodus, for the misery and violence that permeate their countries of origin. For those who have left, and for those about to leave, the absence of the future leaves them with few options: stay to die a slow death, or risk their lives in a hellish journey.

Progreso, Honduras.- José Luis places his artificial limb on his leg, puts on his shirt with only one sleeve, and places a bandana around the only finger on the only hand he still has from that day in the Mexican desert.

He opens the door, passes the ongoing construction site that one day, he says, will house his family when he is married, and goes out into the street in search of a family that has a story of migration to tell him. He is president of the Association of Migrant Returnees with a Disability (Asociación de Migrantes Retornados con Discapacidad), and he has a remarkable interest in familiarizing himself with all the cases of forced migration from his country; he offers himself as a guide to know their stories.

For many years, José Luis has been well known in this city. Famous at one time for his talent singing rancheros and religious songs, eight years ago he lost his arm, a leg, and four fingers when he fell from a cargo train. It was his second attempt to reach the United States as an undocumented migrant. That’s who he was when he came back to Progreso and so he became involved in accompanying those who experienced the same thing he had lived through.

José Luis, on a walk around Progreso

José Luis, on a walk around Progreso

Honduras, his country, is the place most Central American migrants leave to go north. The flow of migration from Honduras has the greatest human cost in the world. Progreso, his city, is one of Honduras’s principal manufacturers of manpower ready to undertake the journey.

The journey north seems to be everywhere but above all else in those places where the exodus begins. When the drivers and their helpers have enough passengers, the buses parked in the city’s dilapidated central bus station can leave. The first buses to go are those for San Pedro Sula, a good place to leave the country. Then, when they enter Mexico, they are in the land of murders, fatal accidents, kidnappings and disappearances.

The Mesoamerican Migrant Movement labels the region the place of “migrant genocide.”

Before 1998, when Hurricane Mitch destroyed Honduras, Progreso was a place that attracted workers from the country’s south because of its banana industry and its factories. Today, its streets bear the marks of what forced migration gives and takes: houses constructed from material but with fractured families; small businesses and fast food restaurants that mingle with this place’s customs; places to receive Western Union remittances that spring up like businesses mining migrants’ savings.

A walk around Progreso’s streets and one finds Claro telephone stalls belonging to Mexican business magnate, Carlos Slim, and brimming with clients complaining about the poor service. Further on, in the dusty peripheral neighborhoods, residents leaving work avoid the darkness so they won’t be assaulted. Day laborers from the last of the banana plantations, industrial workers, taxis, office workers, and the unemployed – all of them are somehow linked to migration.

“Most of them were, or will be, migrants,” says Javier, a factory worker.

His eleven year-old grandson Anthony is with him and asks, “Is Honduras beautiful?” He replies that it’s not because “anybody can pull a pistol on you.”

It won’t do anything for Anthony to remember all the beautiful things about his country. Neither the Copán ruins, nor the Caribbean port of Puerto Cortés, nor the marvels of the sea around Atlántido, and not even the impressive mountain ranges of Santa Bárbara. He is growing up in a crumbling country.

Meanwhile, surefooted, and dextrously dominating his prosthetic leg that hangs halfway down his right thigh, José Luis walks under the intense Honduran sun, pointing at the houses built with dollars from migrants’ remittances, the country’s principle source of income.

They are houses that break the mold, built according to their owner’s criteria. They have painted walls, space for a car, for several rooms and they are covered with anti-theft devices. Each house represents a survival story. More light enters their windows.

“There are a ton of houses built thanks to migrants’ remittances, those who risk their lives on the journey. Here in Progreso, and especially in this neighborhood are the roots of migration, where there are orphans because parents left and there’s significant family disintegration because of migration,” says José Luis.

In the same block there are other houses that are concrete blocks with plastic roofs, built by Honduras’s government through its social housing program. These are the homes where nobody sends back remittances.

Karla lives in one of these houses. She’s seventeen years old. She still hasn’t left.

Yet.

If she migrates, Karla is most afraid of being kidnapped.

If she migrates, Karla is most afraid of being kidnapped.

THE COUNTRY THAT WAS

Guido Eguiguren, a sociologist from the Association of Judges for Democracy (Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia), a Honduran human rights defender, explains forced migration in his country taking place after Hurricane Mitch, in October 1998.

“The hurricane didn’t just physically destroy the country, its infrastructure, and thousands of lives. It also showed the world a country it barely knew, with a staggering level of inequality, a country forgotten by the world of development and cooperation. A country known for the nasty role it played in the 1980s acting as the United States’ aircraft carrier.”

While El Salvador and Nicaragua were battered by civil war, Honduras lent its territory to train the armed forces of the governments of those countries.

Honduras is a country of poor people where 66.5 percent of its residents do not have sufficient income to feed themselves. It’s also an unequal country that spits on people like José Luis or Karla as they look for ways to survive: 10 percent of the richest people in the country have an income equal to that of 80 percent of its low-income population.

Honduras shares first place with Guatemala and El Salvador for pushing out migrants to Mexico, and it takes first place in the divide between rich and poor. In terms of inequality in the Latin American region, Honduras take third place, Guatemala is in fourth, and El Salvador comes in at number seven.

Central America, undermined by poverty and violence

Central America, undermined by poverty and violence

Nobody knows for certain how many Hondurans leave their country each year, and it’s a figure that the government does not want to give out. The rough estimate by the Catholic Church’s Pastoral for Human Movement comes from counting the numbers of people deported from Mexico and the United States: in 2013 it was 72,000 Hondurans, including children and babies.

From Monday to Friday, deportees arrive in two airplanes every day at the Center for Returnee Migrants (Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado, CMAR) at the San Pedro Sula airport, 30 kilometers from Progreso. Men and women get off the planes who left the country free and who come back with their feet bound in tape, their wrists in chains, and with a half-empty sack as their only baggage.

They walk a few steps on leaving the plane, look around from side to side and leave the airport terminal. In a few days, maybe at that very moment, they will undertake the journey back, starting from scratch.

José Luis, who is normally a chatterbox, keeps silent when he sees them arrive, recently unbound and thankful that their country greets them with a “baleada,” a meager flour tortilla covered in beans.

It’s a brutal brush with reality. When they return they are even poorer, more vulnerable, and more exposed to the violence that forced them to flee in the first place.

 

THE COUNTRY THAT IS

José Luis lives in a street in the San Jorge neighborhood, a barrio established by Jesuit missionaries at the beginning of the last decade after Hurricane Mitch “positioned” itself for a day and a half over Honduras, inundating the country with the water and wind of a category five hurricane, the most furious of them all.

Today San Jorge is controlled by two spies (“banderistas”) of the Mara Salvatrucha who report to their bosses who comes and goes. Its four entrances are guarded by the “güirros”, some young men recruited by the Maras and armed with pistols that scare everybody. Instructions from the underworld that extend throughout Progreso come from the hill above, behind an imaginary curtain that marks the barrios’ borders.

Manuel de Jesús Suárez, communications officer of the team of Reflection, Investigation and Communication, an organization that tries to understand the causes of migration from Honduras speaks about the country it is now.

Previously, migration used to occur as an escape from poverty. Today it is a way of saving one’s life, escaping from the daily violence that is permanently in the street, house, and in the Honduran government.

“The causes of migration are not conjunctural but structural, meaning the lack of work and decent salaries, access to health, to education, to housing. Now the other phenomenon is violence, organized crime, and the drug business shaping the country’s structure. The causes are a cyst in the system. They are there. The system makes it so that the majority of the poorest men and women remain excluded and so they leave,” he explains.

Manuel de Jesús, a man of more than 50 years old, knows this history well. He was born in Progreso and he has seen the collapse of the factories and the banana plantations, along with the arrival of the U.S. fast food outlets that spew out their greasy odor in the chaotic streets at the heart of the city. Wendy’s outlets, Burger Kings and Pizza Huts – all have armed guards with shotguns stationed inside their branches.

In 2013, 9,453 people died in Honduras for “external reasons”, meaning they were victims of violence. Of these 71.5 percent were murdered. In this country where an undeclared war rages, 563 people die each month. That’s nineteen deaths every day.

These numbers mark Honduras with the highest homicide rate in the world.

Viridiana wants to flee Honduras

Viridiana wants to flee Honduras

 

DISPOSSESSION AND DERELICTION

José Luis walks Progreso’s streets with mastery on his only leg. The sounds of radios drift from the windows of houses. Radio Progreso was established by Jesuits. On a Sunday program serving as catharsis to confront the abandonment, the station covers work problems, neighborhood violence, the educational system, human rights and migration.

The signal that can be heard from these windows accompanies people whose families have been broken. A migrant comes on the air to tell how, when he left Honduras, “another cock feathered his wife” and his wife left him. The calls keep on coming. Mostly on the radio one hears about those who live or lived with some consequence of forced migration.

The presenters on the Sunday program are Rosa Nelly Santos and Marcia Martínez, members of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Migrants (Cofamipro), and on this occasion they are talking about family disintegration. Before moving to a break in the program, Rosa Nelly announced the tune Hermano Migrante (Fellow Migrant) by Natividad Herrera who sings, “Return soon and enjoy what’s yours / forget the crying and all that pain.”

Return home; fill the towns with people that migration took north. Progreso, like many communities and barrios in Central America has been slowly emptied in the past year. Houses remain behind, sometimes empty, but most half inhabited.

Behind every door and window lie fractured stories.

Floridalma's House: She hides behind its walls.

Floridalma’s House: She hides behind its walls.

 

Teodora stays behind

Teodora stays behind

 

LIFE, MUTILATED

The year was 2005, and it was José Luis’s second attempt at going to the United States. He and his friend Selvi took nineteen days to reach northern Mexico; those days were uneventful. They traveled from Progreso without stopping. They took the train in Tapachula, Mexico. They arrived in Chihuahua. They were going to cross the border at Ciudad Juárez-El Paso.

For José Luis, the success of the journey consisted in not leaving his friend while he slept on the train. He annoyed him. He spoke to him. He made him angry and he kicked him. He didn’t want him to fall asleep.

José Luis – a good footballer, guitar player, and fan of fishing in the Ulúa River bordering Progreso – sat beside the train wagon’s gears and stretched forward to tie a shoe. Strange thing: sweat covered the whole of his neck to the top of his head. He had never been in the desert. The train entered the city of Delicias and José Luis blinked.

“Suddenly things went dark and I fell. I fainted from the dry, June heat. The train severed my leg. Then I put out my arm because I couldn’t free my leg and it cut that off, too. I put out my other arm and the train wheel squashed it.

Silvi, his friend, did not realize what had happened until kilometers further on when he noticed blood covering the train wheels. He thought he was dead. He now lives in the United States where he has started a family. In the south, his friend remained behind: the man who took care of him on the train and who now moves around the streets on one leg, balancing on the arm left him by La Bestia.

 

Texts in Spanish: Rodrigo Soberanes Santín, for Periodistas de a Píe
I am a reporter who travels all around, mostly in Veracruz, Mexico, a good place for my job. Stories have to be brought out from nooks and crannies, and brought to the surface, like kites. Currently I work with Noticias MVS, Associated Press, Diario 19, and Jornada Veracruz.

Images: Moysés Zuñiga Santiago, for Periodistas de a Píe
A photojournalist from Chiapas interested in the struggle of indigenous communities and migration across Mexico’s southern border. I work with La Jornada, AP, Reuters and AFP. My work has been shown in New York University in 2010 and 2013. I traveled with young people like myself crossing the border in search of opportunity, taking personal stories with me that let me journey beside them. I do this work because of that; I want to make extreme situations of violence visible so that these situations don’t occur and people don’t die.

Images: Prometeo Lucero, for Periodistas de a Píe
Freelance journalist focused on human rights issues, migration, and the environment. I have collaborated with La Jornada, the Expansion group, Proceso, Desacatos, Biodiversidad Sustento y Culturas, Letras Libres, Variopinto, and among other agencies, Latitudes Press, Zuma Press, AP, and Reuters. My photojournalism appears in books such as 72migrantes (Almadía, 2011), Secretaría de Educación Pública (2010); Altares y Ofrendas en México (2010); Cartografías Disidentes (Aecid, 2008) and I have been published in other books: “Dignas: Voces de defensoras de derechos humanos” (2012) and “Acompañando la Esperanza” (2013). I was a finalist in the competition, “Rostros de la Discriminación” (México, 2012), “Los Trabajos y los Días” (Colombia, 2013) and “Hasselblad Masters” (2014).

Translation into English: Patrick Timmons, for the MxJTP
Is a human rights investigator, historian, and journalist. Follow his activities on Twitter @patricktimmons. Timmons has publications — translations, articles, or reviews — in the Tico Times (Costa Rica), El País in English (Spain), CounterPunch (USA), The Texas Observer (USA), The Latin American Research Review (USA & Canada), and the Radical History Review (USA). A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science (1996), Timmons holds three advanced university degrees: a Master’s in Latin American Studies from the University of Cambridge, UK (1998); a Ph.D. in Latin American History from the University of Texas at Austin, USA (2004); and, a Master’s in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex, UK (2013).

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