Category Archives: migration

Mexico’s Migrant Women, Trapped between Real and Imaginary Frontiers (ÁNGELES MARISCAL, EN EL CAMINO)

This article and its accompanying photos were published in Spanish under a Creative Commons License by En El Camino of Periodistas de a Pie on 3 June 2014 with support from the Open Society Foundations.

The English translation of this article has been made possible by an anonymous donation, gratefully received.

The translation of this article is dedicated to Patty Kelly, author of Lydia’s Open Door: Inside Mexico’s Most Modern Brothel. PT

Mexico’s Migrant Women, Trapped between Real and Imaginary Frontiers
By Ángeles Mariscal (EN EL CAMINO, PERIODISTAS DE A PIE)

Woman and Child, Mexico's southern border

Woman and Child, Mexico’s southern border

There’s a saying in southerm Mexico: Guatemalan women will do housework, Honduran women will be slaves in the bars or cantinas and the Salvadoran women are invisible. Migrant women are trapped between the physical frontier in Soconusco, Chiapas and the all-too-real yet blurry frontier where abuse, discrimination and stigmatization exist. In southern Mexico, these women aren’t anything other than what their origins – and society – has condemned them to be.

First Stigma: The “Servant” Women

Central American Woman, Mexico's Southern Border

Central American Woman, Mexico’s Southern Border

It is Sunday. Miguel Hidalgo Park in the center of Tapachula – about 275 kilometers from the border with Guatemala – is packed. Dozens of women, most of them young, almost all adolescents, show off embroidered, multi-colored garments with designs and fabrics typical of the neighboring country’s indigenous people. Taking each other by the hand, the Central American women walk round and around the central kiosk.

Some arrive early, their belongings in a suitcase or plastic bag. They sit on the flower boxes and there they wait. Rosa together with two other young women just this morning crossed the border between Mexico and Guatemala, using the bridge at the Tecún Uman border crossing. They paid Mexico’s National Migration Institute for the local visitor’s visa, permitted those who live along Guatemala’s border with Mexico.

This visa allows them to cross with some freedom in the border townships. But it doesn’t let them work in Mexico. It doesn’t escape their notice that business and work tie the residents to both countries and these links go back generations and filter across the frontier.

Rosa is sweating and tired. She has just sat down on a bench when an older woman who got out of a car approaches her. Talking together, they make a deal: 1,200 pesos per month (US$92) plus food. Sundays are days off, after she prepares breakfast for the family.

The woman begins to cross the park. Rosa says a quick goodbye to her friends and falls in behind the woman. Both get into the car. Rosa gets in the back, shy. She does not look up, she avoids eye contact. Long workdays await her as a quasi-slave where she has to sweep, clean, take care of somebody else’s children and make as if she were transparent.

The scene repeats itself in the morning, here and there in the park. In the afternoon, only the domestic workers who already have a job remain, enjoying their only day off.

Girls work here as well as young women. The Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center carried out a survey of domestic workers from Guatemala and found that almost half of those interviewed were 22 years old (49 percent). The other half were between 13 and 17 years old.

The Fray Matías Human Rights Center documented that the for many of the young domestic workers their expectation is to obtain funds that will let them return to their countries to continue their studies. Most only come for brief spells, but many remain trapped and return only occasionally to their native country.

There is no census or estimate about how many they are. They are a floating population and their work happens mostly out of sight, without a formal contract. Since colonial times, whether on haciendas or in homes, most of these women have naturalized the role of working as servants in the Soconusco of Chiapas

Alba has been in the Miguel Hidalgo Park since morning. She and her friends haven’t moved even though it’s been raining. Alba stands out a little more than the others. She says that she is 30 years old and that at the age of 8 she came to work in Tapachula. She is happy because they pay her 2,000 pesos per month (US$147). It’s hardly minimum wage even though her workday is twice as long as the 40 hours per week established under Mexican law.

On a regular day she wakes at 6:00, prepares breakfast, cleans, makes lunch, washes clothes, does the shopping, picks up the kitchen and irons. She has worked cleaning shops or restaurants. The pay is good, but they don’t give her a place to sleep.

“I like working in homes more,” she says, although she recognizes that she doesn’t always have her own place to sleep, like now, since she is working in a house in Colonia Solidaridad (a neighborhood inhabited by lower middle class people from Tapachula). Every night she sleeps on a mattress in the space between the kitchen and the dining room.

  • What do you do on your day off?
  • I help with breakfast and then I come to the park.
  • Do you go out to the cinema or a nearby beach?
  • No.
  • Why?
  • It pains me to say… the people look at us and they don’t like us being there, probably because of how we dress.

Alba says that in her country she could earn a little more money doing the same work. She prefers to stay in Tapachula because, she says, “in Guatemala there is a lot of violence.”

In Miguel Hidalgo Park, Tapachula

In Miguel Hidalgo Park, Tapachula

Santiago Martínez Junco, training coordinator for the Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center explains that under Mexican law the Guatemalan domestic workers are in a system of quasi-slavery.

“The worldview of society in the region – which stigmatizes how people look – puts a mark on migrant women. If you are Guatemalan your niche is domestic work, cleaning, or agriculture. Honduran, Salvadoran and Nicaraguan women are preferred in sex work, or to attract customers in snack joints and restaurants,” he says.

The work of the Guatemalan women has been made invisible because it happens in the private sphere. This situation makes them highly vulnerable.

There are no contracts. There’s no justification when somebody is fired, a strategy often used so as to not pay wages. Sometimes they are charged for food and the average salary is between 1,200 to 1,500 pesos per month (on average, around US$100), and for about 72 hours per week.

Coupled to that, he says that society encloses them or excludes them from everyday life and places where they can meet.

“Most domestic workers don’t know anywhere but Miguel Hidalgo Park and the streets that they take to get to work. For example, people from Tapachula asked the authorities to build the Bicentennial Park because the place was “filled with chapines” (a name given to people from Guatemala). And it’s not like they can go to other places, but society pushes them out, excludes them and they feel social pressure.”

At the end of the day – confirms Santiago Martínez – they have to live in the same feudal situation that’s existed and continues to exist in this region, used exclusively as servants, not allowed to develop in other areas of work.

On Sundays, when they go for a rest in the Miguel Hidalgo Park, the Fray Matías Human Rights Center tries to make them aware of, and train them in, their rights, Martínez says.

“We tell them about their labor rights. We give them workshops in some techniques that they choose. We work dynamically so as to strengthen their self-esteem, so that they can take on their rights… sometimes we go out together in the city, go for walks to nearby places so that they begin to shed their fear and so they feel safer.”

Stigma Number Two: The Fantasy Sellers

Her body gyrates on the stage against the sonic backdrop of an accordion, trumpets and drums. Rhythmic and sensual – can a sound by itself be sensual? – the sound of cumbia accompanying the dancer while she takes off her clothes.

Under the stage at low tables, other women press their bodies to the punters, drink with them, some dance fending off the hands of those who have paid, telling them they are here “just to dance”, keeping them away from sex. In a different space on the same stage, some play billiards with the locals, exaggerating how they play to accentuate the curves of their bodies.

The owner of the place, a fifty-year old woman originally from the southern Mexican border lets us look around and speak with the dancers in their dressing rooms. She insists: in this nightclub there is no sex trade “here we just sell fantasies.”

“Many men only want to see them undress, dance with them. Mostly they speak with the catrachas (Hondurans) because they say they are the prettiest. But we also have dancers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Most don’t even have sex. They just want to spend some time distracted from their daily lives.”

For sex, she says, other places exist.

I go to stage rear. Pinned to the door of the room filled with mirrors where the women arrange themselves are the house rules: how many times one has to dance and strip on stage; the number of beers the women need to drink with the punters (200 per week minimum). This activity is called fichar (literally, to sign up). The owner argues from each “sign up” or beer, half of the earnings goes to the women.

Inside the dressing rooms the fantasy for sale outside crumbles. Before going on stage Melani rushes down some beef soup and a soft drink. She says that she has not eaten all day because she’s having problems with her partner, who is jealous of her. And because he doesn’t get along well with her kids, all of whom are under eighteen.

She is 23 and she has three children. She says that she had to leave her country in 2009 because of “problems” with her previous partner. “He got involved with the Maras and well, you know, there’s a lot of violence in my country… I had to leave.” Melani left her children with her mother for a while. But when she got established in Tapachula, she brought them to live with her.

Her front teeth look decayed. She has visible scars on her calves, some of them recent. When she sees me notice them she pulls on her skin color Lycra, and on top of that she puts the clothes she will take off, piece by piece, on stage.

“He hits me because he is jealous of the clients who look at me. (He worked for a spell as a barman in the nightclub where she works.) But this is how I support my kids, how I support him. What does he want? That I work depending on a shop? They don’t even give us jobs in shops because they say we steal. And when they do give us jobs in stores the pay is miserable. I said to him, you hooked up with a Honduran. This is the life of a Honduran woman. It’s just that there they treat us well and pay us better.”

Everyday Melani confronts the stigma of being a “catracha”, a pejorative term tagged to the women who come from her country, who are seen as expert lovers. Her physique gives her away – broad hips, long legs, svelte waist – and does not let her fade into the background. “If I get into a taxi, the driver wants to grab my legs. If I work in a store, the owner wants to mess with me,” she laments.

In the dressing room’s neon light, the dancers put on their make-up, their long wigs, struggle into Lycra and clothes adjusted for cellulitis, a fat stomach, scars and stretch marks left by motherhood. Once on stage, its semi-darkness helps them.

Luis Rey García Villagrán, activist and defender of the rights of sex workers, confirms that in Tapachula alone – the largest city of the border region known as the Soconusco – there are more than 15 tolerance zones and around 200 centers where they can practice prostitution openly and in private: voluntarily or through networks of people involved in sexual exploitation.

Villagrán represents the Centro de Dignificación Humana and he thinks that this activity is taking place with the permission of society and government. “Here in this region any 5 year old child has seen that in front of her house, at her school, on her daily walk that there’s a snack joint, a bar, a brothel and a cabaret. I have seen Central American women enter and leave these places. This situation has become natural and has enslaved women in this activity.

Migrant women have become part of daily life in Soconusco. The population lives with them. Locals, including public servants visit the places where they work. As to their migratory status, they are only asked about it when there is an attempt to extort them.

Stigma Number Three: The Women Who Will Do Anything

Aidé runs a rooming house located 10 streets from the center of Tapachula. This means she charges rent or lets out rooms with a plastic roof for those who request her services. Most of the residents are migrants without legal status in Mexico.

On arriving at the meeting with Aidé, I bump into a dozen migrants and their guide who are stuffed into one of the rooms. She is not intimidated. She says the migrants will leave the place in one or two days. Someone will come to pick them up so they can continue on their way.

She has been in jail accused of trafficking in people for the purposes of sexual exploitation. After three years inside she managed to get out.

“I had just been deported from the United States and I needed to continue sending money to my two kids who were still in El Salvador. A friend contracted me to manage a bar. The place wasn’t mine and the only thing I saw was that the servers did not get their money. If the girls want to mess with the clients in the rooms that’s their problem. It’s their way of earning a living. Nobody forces them.”

Aidé – instead of the bar’s owner – was arrested during a crackdown. Some of the women working in this bar located in Ciudad Hidalgo were minors. However, after a few days they were deported to their country of origin and nobody faced criminal charges for people trafficking. That’s how Aidé regained her freedom.

“When I got out I tried to cross to the United States again. But I couldn’t. They returned me again and that’s where you find me now, trapped in this place, without the power to move forward and without the power to return to my country,” she narrates with a grim countenance and brusque gestures that contrast against her clear, lovable eyes, her curly hair and petite figure.

A table, two chairs, an individual bed and a booming television sat on a little piece of furniture barely fit in the room. A 10-year old child does not take her eyes off the television. She is the daughter of a friend who is staying with her while she is looking for somewhere to live.

“I am resigned to living here in Tapachula or in Cacahoatán or whatever’s nearby. It’s all the same. But working as what? Here, Salvadorans can’t work as domestics because the woman thinks we are going to steal her husband. We look for work as employees and the boss wants to mess with us. In the bars they think we are going to rob or kill the clients,” she says while she readies a small case filled with varnishes and instruments to do nails, a service she provides at home and also at a small beauty salon in the area. She thinks this job is one of the few she can do where they don’t discriminate.

The migrant women who live in southern Mexico live lives trapped between a physical frontier that stops them from moving freely and a real border produced by discrimination, abuse, and social stigma that erases them as people.

Angeles Mariscal

Text: Ángeles Mariscal, for Periodistas de A Pie

I am an independent journalist, founder of the Chiapas Paralelo website. I contribute to CNN México and El Financiero. I run the Colegio de Comunicadores y Periodistas de Chiapas (CCOPECH). To have the conditions necessary for a dignified life in the places we come from is a right, and to migrate when they don’t exist is also a right. It’s from that perspective that I cover the subject of migration.

Moyses

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.

Translation: Patrick Timmons, for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

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 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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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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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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Migrant Roundup in the Southeast of Mexico: 450 Detainees (Blanche Petrich, LA JORNADA)

This article was first published in La Jornada at 2230 on Thursday 1 May 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Migrant Roundup in the Southeast of Mexico: 450 Detainees
By Blanche Petrich (LA JORNADA)

In a second round up in less than 12 hours of Central American migrants in Southern Mexico, around 150 undocumented migrants who were spending the night in the train station of Palenque, Chiapas were detained on Thursday 1 May between 0400 and 0500 by officers from the National Migration Institute (INM) and Federal Police (PF).

Hundreds more Central American citizens managed to avoid the operation and sought safety in Palenque’s migrant refuge. The detainees were taken to Palenque’s migrant detention facility and it is feared they will be deported in the next few hours. Up to publication, and as reported by telephone to this newspaper by the director of The 72 migrant shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco, Fray Tomás González Castillo, no humanitarian organization, either governmental or non-governmental, has managed to gain access to the detainees to assess the state of their health or ensure respect for their rights.

A few hours earlier, at 1900 on Wednesday 30 April, in Emiliano Zapata, a township in Tabasco not far from Palenque, Chiapas, another 300 Central Americans were detained and transferred overnight to Tapachula where another mass deportation operation is underway.

Since Easter Friday, when the so-called “migrant viacrucis” left Tenosique, federal, muncipal, and state security forces have used check points to block roads and railway lines traditionally used by migrants on their way north. Additionally, at strategic points where migrants jump the trains along, railway companies have posted more guards, partnering with several police forces, according to Fray González.

As a consequence, over the past two weeks several thousand migrants have been stranded and harrassed outside Tenosique, Palenque, Macuspana y la Chontalpa in Tabasco and in Las Choapas and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.

Award-winning journalist Blanche Petrich reports for La Jornada. Follow her on Twitter @blanchepetrich. This article first appeared under the title, “Redadas contra migrantes en el sureste del país; suman 450 detenidos,” available at: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas/2014/05/01/detienen-en-nueva-redada-a-150-migrantes-mas-que-pernoctaban-en-chiapas-2313.html.

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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Migration through Mexico: Uncertain whereabouts of more than 300 migrants detained and beaten by Mexico’s authorities (Desinformemonos)

This article was published on 1 May 2014 by Desinformemonos. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

Translator’s note: Since the translation and publication of this story, La Jornada reports that 291 Central American migrants are being detained in Villahermosa, Tabasco at the city’s INM facilities. According to the news report, the consults of Central American countries have been informed.

But Rubén Figueroa, a migrant rights defender, posted on Facebook that a new operation by the INM is underway in Palenque, Chiapas. For more details, please see the MxJTP translation of a Blanche Petrich story for La Jornada available via this link. PT

Uncertain whereabouts of more than 300 migrants detained and beaten by Mexico’s authorities
by Desinformemonos

–        The Central Americans may be in detention in Acayucan, Veracruz

–        Fray Tomás González, Fray Aurelio Tadeo, and Rubén Figueroa from The 72 Migrant Shleter were physically assaulted

Mexico. — The whereabouts remain “uncertain” of the more than 300 migrants arrested on 30 April in an “impressive” operation mounted by Mexico’s Migration Institute (INM), the Federal Police (PF) and Tabasco State Police according to Marta Sáncehz of the Mesoamerican Migrants’ Movement (MMM). “We think that they might have them in the Acayucán, Veracruz detention center but there are stories that some are in jails.” The MMM believes this operation is the Mexican government’s reponse to the growing social protest demanding their right to free movement. Just a few days ago, the government was required to issue documents to the members of the migrants’ viacrucis so that police officers do not disrupt their journey to the U.S. border.

The organization has released information that some of the Central Americans who escaped from the roundup are hiding in the mountains and that some children are alone. Fray Tomás González, Fray Aurelio Tadeo y Ruben Figueroa, all from The 72 migrant shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco were assaulted and beated by police officers as they tried to bring water and food to the detainees.

The group of migrants that left The 72 decided yesterday to begin their journey on foot because it is now impossible to ride the train known as La Bestia [from Tenosique — an MxJTP reader notes that the Bestia line that starts in Arriaga, Chiapas runs up to Ixtepec and then to the junction at Medias Aguas, near Acayucan, Veracruz is very much in operation with train cart tops overflowing with Central American Migrants]. “In his desire to shift responsibility, the Governor of Veracruz’s complaint of 1 April 2014 against the Kansas City Southern and Ferrosur” railroads makes riding the train impossible, reported the MMM’s press release. After walking about 40 kms, the Central Americans were apprehended and beaten in Emiliano Zapata, Tabasco. Members of The 72 followed the convoy to insure respect for the migrants’ rights and they were assaulted by police.

The authorities penned in the migrants in Chacamax, Tabasco whereafter they were placed on buses for an unknown destination. “That’s where we had the last ´phone contact with them,” Marta Sánchez says. At the writing of this story, the migrants’ whereabouts remains unknown. A report this morning on Noticias MVS with Carmen Aristegui stated that the operation has been ordered by the INM’s director, Ardelio Vargas Fosado – he has a reputation for ordering Federal Preventative Police operations against the farmers of San Salvador Atenco and the Popular Assembly of the People’s of Oaxaca (APPO) as well as several instances of repression of social movements when he was Puebla’s Public Security Chief. Migrants have repeatedly requested his resignation since he believes migrations is a “public safety” issue.

Desinformemonos is a Mexican alternative news website. This article first appeared under the title, “Incierto, el paradero de más de 300 migrantes detenidos y golpeados por autoridades en México.”

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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Dead in Juárez: Noemí tried to migrate twice and her last attempt left her dead (Lineida Castillo, EL COMERCIO, Quito, Ecuador)

This article was first published in El Comercio of Quito, Ecuador. It has been translated by Debbie Nathan. The article has been translated without El Comercio’s permission, but has been published with Debbie Nathan’s permission. The MxJTP gratefully acknowledges Debbie Nathan’s work.

Dead in Juárez: Noemí tried to migrate twice and her last attempt left her dead
by Lineida Castillo (EL COMERCIO, Quito, Ecuador)

In Cañar province, immigration pulls in children and teenagers. Parents who live outside the country make deals on the phone with human traffickers operating in Central America and Ecuador.

Noemí A., one little girl who tried to get to the United States illegally and who died before crossing the border with Mexico, was buried yesterday.

The child’s grandparents carried her body to the church in the village of Tambo in an act of farewell before her burial.  During the ceremony, the priest issued a call to the faithful to protect their children by not sending them out of the country. After the mass, her body was taken to the District Attorney’s office for another investigation.

According to the provincial district attorney of Cañar, Romeo Gárate, another autopsy was carried out to determine the causes of death. The official has requested Mexico’s Attorney General for papers related to the case and for her smuggler to be investigated.

After the judicial investigation, her body will be buried in the village cemetery.

Noemí was on her way to meet her parents, who had left her ten years earlier to look for the “American dream.” Last 11 March, two months before her twelfth birthday, Noemí was found dead in a room in a house in Mexico. A District Attorney in Mexico determined that the child had committed suicide, hanging herself with a shower curtain in a shelter where she had been taken after being caught with a smuggler who was trying to take her to the US.

The trip was her second attempt. In August, Noemí had left her native Molino Huayco, El Tambo for the first time. She lived in Tambo with her grandparents Cipriano Quillay and María Guamán. On her mother’s instruction, the little girl was put on a regional bus to Tulcán.

There, on the same bus, and for the same reason, was another minor from Cañar. Noemí’s parents made a deal over the phone for a $15,000 trip with an undocumented migrant smuggler from Mexico who also works with a network of smugglers in Ecuador.

In Tulcán, a man waited for them. The girls went with him overland to Colombia, and then left on a Panama-bound plane. That is the route most used by smugglers who take minors from Cañar – a growing phenomenon that worries authorities.

Although there are no official statistics about child migration, since 2013 to the present the non-governmental organization 1800-Migrantes has dealt with nine cases of minors from Azuay and Cañar who have been caught during their crossing to the United States. According to William Murillo, the NGO’s director, on average they receive about three inquiries per week, mainly from grandparents seeking advice about trips for minors.

In the past few months, almost every community in Cañar has children who have left to migrate. In the village of Molino ten minors have left this year.

According to District Attorney Gárate, migration from this province is a process. First the father leaves, then he brings his wife, and eventually the couple decides to send for their children. Those in this type of process who opt for reunion are typically parents who have spent more than six years separated from their children.

The DA questions the parents: “They’ve experienced first hand the abuses of crossing borders, yet they still hand their children over to criminals whose only interest is money and not people’s lives.”

He has noted a tendency among migrant women, including adolescents, to take a morning after pill with them on the trip, so that if they are sexually assaulted they will not get pregnant.

Ten years ago, Noemí’s parents left El Tambo and spent almost three months crossing. The journey included: onerous hikes through the desert, being locked up, twice arrested, and attacks by armed groups, a relative said.

The little girl went through the same thing. On her first try she was locked up for three months with her travel companion (a ten-year-old girl) in a room in Panama, until they returned to Cañar. Cipriano dries his tears and remembers his surprise when she came back to the little adobe house where she had been raised since she was six months old.

Noemí told them that she had been locked up the whole time and only given bread or crackers with Coke.” She lost weight. She was depressed, quiet, and crying, Cipriano recalled. To keep her busy, they enrolled her in school, where she was always the best student.

Cipriano thought that would put an end to the parents’ obsession with bringing the child over, but it didn’t happen that way. On February 6 the grandfather again handed over his granddaughter, this time to a woman from Cañar who was going to Quito. Two other little girls, 8 and 10 years old, were going with her.

The man found out about his granddaughter on March 12 when his son-in-law called and said, “Noemí is dead.” Cipriano says he often argued with the parents because he never agreed to the trip. “I told them she was just a little girl and they shouldn’t put her at risk, and that she didn’t lack for food here. On the second attempt the parents made a deal with another smuggler from Cañar.

Cipriano learned that all three children traveling with his granddaughter during both attempts are now with their parents in the US. In Molino Huayco there are children, like another of Cipriano’s grandchildren, who refuse to go even though their parents urge them to; there are still others who have been detained and deported.

Gárate said that the Cañar district attorney is investigating this and other child trafficking cases, but the families do not give out information so those responsible can be located. In spite of scant cooperation, Gárate says, “in this province we have won more cases (60%), involving trafficking of immigrants or scams related to immigration, than any other of the country’s provinces. A conviction used to get six years maximum and now it gets 25.”

Cipriano said he did not know anything about the smugglers who took his granddaughter to Mexico because the contacts and payment were made by the parents from the US.

In Context

Noemí’s young body arrived in Cañar last week. Yesterday there was a mass over her body, attended by the grandparents who had raised her for ten years. Her parents left Noemí in their charge when they immigrated illegally to the United States. [She died on the U.S. Mexico border in Ciudad Juárez.]

Journalist Lineida Castillo reports for El Comercio. This article first appeared under the title, “Noemí intentó migrar dos veces y solo halló la muerte,” available at: http://www.elcomercio.com/seguridad/Noemi-nina_migrante-deceso-Mexico-coyote-Canar-Tambo-suicidio_0_1120687986.html.

Translator Debbie Nathan is an award-winning journalist and author whose last book, Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personalities Case, was published by the Free Press in 2011. Among other subjects, she is a long-time observer and writer about the U.S.-Mexico border whose highly recommended article about El Paso appeared in N+1 in May 2013. She lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at: @DebbieNathan2.

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Children Returned In School Buses to Honduras Twice a Week (Rodrigo Soberanes, RADIO PROGRESO)

This article was first published by Radio Progreso on 26 March 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Children Returned in School Buses to Honduras Twice a Week
by Rodrigo Soberanes (RADIO PROGRESO)

The Honduran children shout, play, and poke their heads and arms out of the windows of the old U.S. school bus. But they are not going to school. They are being returend to their country as deportees.

They are in Corinto, a Honduras town bordering Guatemala where two times a week buses arrive from Tapachula, Chiapas leaving the children in the hands of police.

When the buses arrive in Honduras after more than a ten-hour journey from Mexico, the national police flank the yellow buses bearing the words “School Bus”.
The Mexican and Honduran buses park front-to-front but 30 meters separates them. In that space, over a few minutes, it’s like the scene at a kindergarten, when mothers take the time to make their children presentable.

While older siblings begin filling the buses that will return them home, mothers hurriedly change diapers, prepare bottles and, on the ground, change the clothes of their children. Everything happens under the watchful eyes of the police and staff from the International Red Cross – they offer medical and psychological attention to the deportees.

The Centro Fray Matías de Córdoba has counted almost 10 thousand deported minors from Mexico to Central America during 2013 – in two years, that’s more than a 100 percent increase.

For 2011 this human rights organization has documented that 4,100 minors were returned to several countries. In 2013, that figure rose to 9,893 minors.

So, between 2011 and 2013 the number of migrant minors deported to their countries of oroigin rose by more than 5,700. Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) holds all of these people in the Tapachula detnetion center, the largest in the country and in Latin America, according to one specialist.

A single mother clutching her four-year old child, and who did not want to give her name, said that she was detained in Las Choapas, Veracruz and was held for two days in a migrant detention center. She did not know where she was, but perhaps close to the Acayucán center where she spent another two days before being taken to Tapachula.

The women migrant, a mother of three children who remained at home, tried to remain undetected by police. She did not want to be taken to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a shelter run by the country’s Chidren and Family Insitute (IHNFA, according to its Spanish acronym.)

According to Diego Lorente, the center seems to be in the hands of the Mara Salvatrucha. Like the mother, another family tried to remain undetected so as to stay away from the yellow buses. “They should have taken care of us when we were leaving our country, not when we’re coming back,” the woman exclaimed.

“Along the way, we travel with the children, getting on and off the buses, dealing with the hunger. We have to stomach some humiliating treatment. Traveling through Mexico is the most difficutl. Some Mexicans are bad and some are good,” she said.

I ask them: And now what? “I am going home. I have to get back home…. Bad experience,” the woman said as she ducked out of the conversation. A friend of hers made signs that they needed to make a dash for it while the officials were taking a break.

The mothers with two children joined another family and tried to enter their country in the same way they left it: undetected. But then they were seen by police and forced to get into the “school buses.”

Journalist Rodrigo Soberanes is based in Mexico. Follow him on Twitter @rodsantin. This article first appeared for Radio Progreso, Honduras, under the title, “Devuelven niños en camión escolar a Honduras dos veces a la semana,” available at: http://radioprogresohn.net/index.php/comunicaciones/noticias/item/814-devuelven-ni%C3%B1os-en-cami%C3%B3n-escolar-a-honduras-dos-veces-a-la-semana.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in the Americas. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter@patricktimmons.

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An Argentine Wants Them To Kill Him (Martín Caparrós, El País Semanal)

This article first appeared in El Pulso in El País Semanal on 2 March 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

An Argentine Wants Them To Kill Him
By Martín Caparrós (El País Semanal)

Days ago his mother and his lawyer managed to get close to Pope Bergoglio to ask him if he might save his life. Meanwhile, from solitary confinement in the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas, Victor Saldaño has spent years asking them to kill him.

I already asked him about it when I went to see him. Victor Saldaño had an even head of black hair, dark eyes like coal pits, a large white uniform with two black letters on the back: they said, DR, Death Row; sometimes one or two letters say everything. Saldaño was speaking from behind reinforced glass: he told me that he could not go on, that he’d spent four years locked up and he couldn’t do any more. That was ten years ago; now Saldaño is 42 and he’s still there, waiting for the moment to come.

–       Do you sometimes think what it is going to be like?

–       Well, I already know what’s going to happen. They put you on the bed. Then they kill you.

That’s what he told me that time. And he kept looking at me, lips tight, a mix of his fright and defiance. He was looking at me like I was underlining in a thick red marker: of course I know, dude. You think you could live here without knowing? What do you think I trick myself into believing in order to keep on going?

Saldaño is Argentinian, from Córdoba. As a youth he left his country to discover the world. He got lost. On 25 November 1995 he spent a couple of days drinking with his Mexican friend Jorge Chávez in a Dallas suburb. His crime was stupid and clumsy: witnesses saw him enter a business then they saw him leave pointing a gun at Paul Ray King, a 46-year old computer salesman. Witnesses saw them push him towards a nearby wood; witnesses saw them return alone. In the wood, King was dead, five bullets to his body. When hours later the police arrested Saldaño, he had King’s watch on his wrist and the gun in his pocket. His haul came to about 50 dollars.

–       Do you sometimes remember King? Do you think about him?

–       About who?

That’s what a distracted Saldaño told me back then. Of all the possible replies, it was the one I least expected.

–       Why would I throw lies at you?

He was sentenced to death in 1996. At trial, an expert witness for the prosecution said that because he was “hispanic,” Saldaño was more violent by nature. Years later a lawyer managed to have the verdict annulled. He was tried again, and sentenced again.

–       You see, they are going to put me to sleep with one injection and then they are going to inject me with poison. But that’s not what is traumatic for me. They’re what is traumatic. They break my balls, they do. They bust my balls way too much.

At the time he told me that “they” were the other prisoners, the rest of the condemned. Saldaño couldn’t bear his life in the prison. He couldn’t deal with the attacks, the years of not seeing daylight, without hugging a relative.

–       Sometimes I ask myself if it wouldn’t be better for them to kill me right now… The life here is so tough that you say to yourself, “Why the fuck do I bother…” I want to live, just like everybody else. But everything’s dark to me, all black. That’s when sometimes I tell myself that it must end here and they should kill me.

–       Don’t you fear death?

–       No. I have seen many people die here, young people, and … What do I know? I believe that after death we are going to rest in peace.

–       Do you believe in God?

–       No. I have always been an atheist, since I was a boy. But I still believe that when I die I am going to be at rest.

Saldaño spoke with the haughtiness of the very shy. His smile was a mix of nerves and spite and pleading. When we said goodbye he put his hand against mine through the glass and he wished me luck. I did not know how to answer him. Since then he’s submitted volumes of papers requesting his execution. His family – and now the Pope – opposes it: they are asking for his life. Bergoglio has everything to win: if they don’t execute him he would have done everything possible – and I can’t think of a reason why anybody would say that his god is no big deal if he can’t save a lost man from Córdoba.

Prize-winning author of fiction and non-fiction, Martín Caparrós lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He also reports for El País and writes for its blog, Pamplinas. His most recent novel, published by Anagrama, is called, Comí (I ate). This article was first published under the title of, “Un Argentino quiere que lo maten,” in El País Semanal on 2 March 2014. The Spanish original is not yet available on the web.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting up the Bodies

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

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

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

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

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

Union Leaders

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

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

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

Two teachers and a taxi driver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Taxi Driver

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

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

And a woman

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

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

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

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

And Those Still Missing…

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

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

Reporter Hernán Villareal Cruz is one of Mexico’s at-risk journalists. He writes for Diario Presencia in Veracruz. This story first appeared under the title, “Tiradero de ejecutados tramo Paralelo-Coatza,” and is available at: http://diariopresencia.com/nota.aspx?ID=68977&List=%7BE99F52BD-B89D-4D80-A5BB-BCD1566AE98A%7D.

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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