Dozens of migrants attacked and kidnapped in Oaxaca

by Scott Campbell
December 30, 2010

On December 16, a freight train left Arraiga, Chiapas, with 300 migrants from Central America riding on top of it. While passing through Oaxaca the train was stopped twice. First, around 100 people were detained at an immigration checkpoint. Twenty minutes later, those remaining on the train were attacked by a gang of armed men, presumably Zetas or Maras, two groups known for preying on migrants and robbing or kidnapping them. Kidnapped migrants are usually held for ransom or forced to become gunmen or drug mules. The Zetas are likely responsible for the massacre of 72 Central American migrants in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas on August 24 of this year.

During the attack, at least 40 migrants were kidnapped and have not been heard from since. Of the 300 people to depart from Chiapas, only 20 made it to Ixtepec, Oaxaca, a common layover stop where a Catholic-run migrant shelter is located. A short video with testimonies from some of those who survived the events is posted on YouTube. I translated it and added the subtitles, so any errors in those departments are mine.

Along with insinuations that immigration was aware of the attack awaiting the migrants, the Mexican government has been extremely crass in its handling of the situation, at first outright denying what occurred and later acting only after concerted pressure from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. An entire week passed before Mexico agreed to investigate the “supposed kidnappings.” Previously, Mexico’s Interior Ministry had informed El Salvador’s Deputy Foreign Minister that El Salvador’s “stance was unfounded, that [it] had no basis to claim that there was a kidnapping.”

While the Mexican government was sitting on its hands regarding the December 16 kidnapping – despite the fact that family members of those kidnapped reported receiving calls demanding ransoms of 10,000 dollars, as well as indications that the victims were being held near the site of the kidnapping – four more Central American migrants were kidnapped on December 21, and a fifth, from El Salvador, was killed during the attack.

According to Honduras’ Deputy Foreign Minister, Alden Rivera, 20,000 Central Americans have been kidnapped in Mexico on their way to the United States in the past twelve months. Of those, half were from Honduras. A staggering 30 out of every 100 Honduran migrants in Mexico are kidnapped.

As well, Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, the Catholic priest who runs the migrant shelter in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, has come under increasing threats and harassment as a result of his work assisting migrants and denouncing the disgraceful and dangerous treatment which undocumented Central American migrants face in Mexico.

These kidnappings, and the failure of the Mexican government to act – or even worse, the complicity of some government functionaries in these acts – are emblematic of the impunity that reigns in Mexico. However, though not a focus of this summary, it is important to note that when examining the causes of Central American migration, as well as the rise and power of organizations such as the Zetas and the Maras, one’s gaze must firmly rest on the political and economic policies of the United States. While it is certainly desirable and should be demanded that the Mexican government protect migrants crossing through its territory, upon making that journey these migrants then must again risk their lives to cross into the U.S., only to face massive discrimination and human and labor rights violations upon arrival. The root causes are the neoliberal policies emanating out of Washington and foisted upon Central America and Mexico alike.