See you at the next Massacre of Migrants – by Óscar Martínez (El Faro)

~ This opinion piece was originally published by El Faro on August 26, 2010 ~


Translator’s Note: This piece was published in response to the first massacre of San Fernando, Tamaulipas. San Fernando, Tamaulipas is 85 miles from Brownsville, Texas. On 24 August 2010 after battling the Zetas, the Mexican military found the bodies of 72 migrants on a ranch in the township. The Zetas – an organized criminal group of Narco terrorists – had been abducting migrants journeying north through Mexico, forcing them to work for them or demanding a payoff. They killed those who didn’t. Only three people survived. It has been four years since the massacre and the Mexican state still has not fully investigated what happened at San Fernando. Written at the time, investigative reporter Óscar Martínez’s opinion piece makes plain that the abuse of migrants in Mexico, by authorities and criminal gangs alike, started years before the massacre at San Fernando. Several months after the massacre of the 72, between April and June 2011 Mexican authorities discovered more mass graves at San Fernando and exhumed 193 bodies. PT

I don’t understand the hullaballoo unleashed by the news of Zetas murdering 72 migrants in Mexico. I suppose it’s because of the number of piled up bodies shown in the photo of the ranch in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, and a stone’s throw from the border with Brownsville, Texas. It shows the bodies wound around each other like a giant worm, lying by the wall of the open shed on the hill in the middle of nowhere, there where the earthen path ends. Some of the corpses have their hands tied behind their back. Others lay bunched together, one on top of the other, right where the worm widens. I do not understand the hullabaloo let loose by the massacre of so many migrants.

Mainstream media in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and even in the US, Spain, and South America have given over their front pages and their leading news shows to talk about this massacre of migrants in Mexico. I don’t understand the hullabaloo of so many large media outlets.

The politicians – the ones from Mexico, Central America, Brazil, Ecuador have rushed to press conferences with the large media outlets, to then appear on the front page. That’s right, and not just any old politicians, either. Heads of departments, of institutes, of organizations. Just like Mexico’s president these other presidents have said that the San Fernando killers are “beasts.” I just don’t understand so much hullaballoo from so many important politicians.

I don’t understand why the outcry is trying to milk the shock. I don’t understand and if they tried to make me understand I would say that they were faking it. They are putting on long faces, an empty gesture. They are flaunting themselves using ink, technology, and their capacity to buy off cable news.

The San Fernando, Tamaulipas massacre – so close, so very close to the United States, the place where the undocumented were trying to get to – is not surprising. The San Fernando massacre – it takes a Central American migrant 20 days to travel there – is just another shocking fact. And nothing more. The San Fernando massacre – a Central American migrant has to ride eight trains as a stowaway to get there – was foreseen. The massacre of undocumented migrants in Mexico began at the beginning of 2007.

What started this week are press conferences given by prickly officials. This week large headlines blazoned from media outlets that don’t even know where Tamaulipas is or what the hell an undocumented Central American migrant is doing there. What began this week is a circus. And soon enough it will come to a stop. It won’t last many years. It won’t last many months. It won’t even last a few weeks.

What Alejandro Poiré said yesterday is a lie. He’s secretary of Mexico’s National Security Council (Consejo Nacional de Seguridad), the government’s spokesperson for things related to organized crime. He said that in the last few months they have received information that some criminal organizations are participating in the kidnap and extortion of migrants. That’s a lie. He’s known about it for a while. The FBI said it at the end of 2007. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH)) said the same thing around the middle of last year. It was clear. Their report bears the title, “Special Report on Kidnaping of Migrants in Mexico” (Informe Especial Sobre Secuestro de Migrantes en México). It says that around ten thousand mostly Central American undocumented migrants have been kidnaped in the last six months. It also gives the name of “the criminal organization”. They are called the Zetas. It’s a gang that has existed since 1997. The Gulf Cartel established the Zetas, forming the gang from elite former military now recruited to train hit men. The report also says that municipal and state authorities take part in these abductions. It states that the kidnappings take place in daylight in townships and states that also have names: Tenosique, Tabasco, Coatzacoalcos, Medias Aguas, Tierra Blanca, Veracuz, Ixtepec, Oaxaca, Saltillo, Coahuila, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. TAMAULIPAS. It’s a lie that Poiré and the people he speaks for knew just a “few months ago.” A few goddamn months: that’s what a Mexican would say.

What Antonio Díaz said yesterday is a lie. He’s the coordinator of the advisors to Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración) who have detected around seven thousand kidnappings of migrants so far for 2010. It’s a lie because we shared a table on 5 July at six o’clock in the afternoon in the Human Rights Commission in Mexico City. From where we sat we said that even during this talk migrants were being abducted. We didn’t say seven migrants. We said HUNDREDS. And he agreed.

It’s also a lie that officials from Central American countries are worried. They have spent the day giving press conferences about the massacre. And even if this concern is genuine, it matters little. They have also known about the abductions for a while. They have scheduled appointments with the El Faro staff that cover migration in Mexico for meetings with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs in El Salvador and Guatemala, with officials from the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana) and other state agencies. We talked about and gave them documents showing that hundreds of abductions have taken place for years carried out by a criminal organization that has a name: THE ZETAS. We told them it was a humanitarian crisis, that there was a massacre and that they had to talk about it at the highest level. When they stretched out their hands in a parting gesture they said that they believed us, that they really believed us and that they were angry and horrified.

At the very least the El Salvadorans are going to say that they have established two new consulates. And that’s true. One is in Arriaga, Chiapas and the other is in Acayucan, Veracruz. But they lie if they think that’s the solution. They don’t believe it or those who said that we’re lying. They agreed with our argument that a consulate is nothing more than an administrative office for other cases, the massacre cases, the kidnappings and rapes. They also said that they believed that they had to speak out from the highest possible level: they didn’t mean the outcry should come from the deputy for expatriate Salvadorans in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but must come from the President. From the various presidents who see that migrants are murdered in their attempt to reach the United States.

So many headlines in so many important media outlets. The news organizations lie because they have not sent anybody permanently to put their eyes on the ongoing massacre. It’s a lie because they continue to believe that the successful woman who opened a pupusa restaurant in Los Angeles merits the same space on their pages about migration as the space they give to kidnappings, rapes and mutilations. Or, more accurately: to the press conferences about those kidnappings, those rapes and those mutilations. When they do get their feet wet, it’s just with the ink on their front pages. They don’t get their boots muddy or their reporters dirty. They don’t want wet billfolds.

If they were to get themselves dirty. If they were to ditch their meetings. If they were to stop saying they believe something only then to do nothing. If they just stopped lying. They would know that from Tamaulipas the Zetas control a system to kidnap Central Americans. They would know that the Zetas infiltrate the Central Americans on the train to discover those migrants with family in the United States. They grab those ones to beat 500, 800, 1,000 or even 5,000 US dollars out of them in an “express kidnap” (secuestro expres). They would know that in each unit (estaca) – and they would also know that estaca is the name given to Zeta commando units – there is a butcher. And they would know that the butchers are those men who cut into pieces those migrants who nobody responds to. Then they put them in a drum and burn them. They would know that there exist dozens of ranches like San Fernando in Mexico with many bodies in graves. They would know that in San Fernando there are no journalists who talk about the Zetas because they would kill them. That’s also true in Tenosique, Medias Aguas, Orizaba, Tierra Blanca and Saltillo – and they would also know where those places are. They would know that since 2007 the Zetas have controlled the smuggling routes. They would know that he who doesn’t pay gets killed and even though the bodies can’t be seen they are there.

You aren’t surprised. None of you are surprised. You have overcome the hullaballoo to feign surprise. You are liars. You are going to forget a massacre that began in 2007. There’s only one way to bid you farewell: see you at the next massacre.

Journalist Óscar Martínez reports for online investigative news website El Faro in El Salvador. You can follow Martínez on Twitter: @CronistaOscar. He is the author of The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail (2013) originally published in 2010 in Spanish as Los migrantes que no importan. He recently published “Why the Children Fleeing Central America will not Stop Coming” in The Nation (in English, 18 – 25 August). On-line news portal El Faro is an investigative journalism outlet based in El Salvador. The original story was published under the title, “Nos vemos en la próxima masacre de migrantes,” and may be found at:

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

About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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