COMITANCILLO, Guatemala – In early January, Marvin Alberto Tomás awakened here in his hometown, eager to start the lengthy scuttle to America he hoped would present a better lifestyles for his mother and four small sisters.
Instead, the nearly 2,000-mile commute thru two international locations would end with his death.
Tomás, 22, nicknamed “El Zurdo” or “Lefty,” was idea to be one of 19 migrants whose charred our bodies were chanced on Jan. 22 inner two vans in the town of Santa Anita in Camargo, the Mexican state of Tamaulipas – barely 50 miles from the U.S. border.
A dozen Mexican police officers are now being held in custody on homicide charges in the deaths.
The massacre and subsequent arrests have further uncovered the danger facing Central American migrants fleeing their international locations because of unemployment, poverty and gang violence in the hope of a better lifestyles in America.
But for too many families, these hopes are ending in despair and death.
“He accurate wanted a better lifestyles for his four small siblings,” Ingrid Tomás, Marvin’s eldest sister, said from her residence in Comitancillo.
“We misplaced contact with him after he said they were doing heavenly, getting stop to the U.S., then he did now not call my mom again,” she said, her assert breaking, “the next thing we heard on social media was the killing of 19 Guatemalans.”
Mexican state a dangerous battleground for cartels
It took Mexican authorities more than three weeks the usage of DNA samples sent by Guatemalan families to identify 18 of the 19 burned our bodies – 16 Guatemalans and two Mexican men who smuggled migrants.
One remaining body was so badly burned that the forensic specialists haven’t been able to identify it.
The location where authorities suspect the deaths took place is believed to be one of the most dangerous states in Mexico.
Pressed against Texas’ southern border along the Gulf of Mexico, Tamaulipas is the shortest route for migrants to the United States. But it also serves as a battleground between Mexican cartels.
It be now not the first time Tamaulipas has been in the headlines because of massacres. In August 2010, the Zetas cartel killed 72 undocumented migrants in the municipality of San Fernando.
Extra than a decade later, no person has been convicted in these slayings.
But it’s now not cartels authorities mediate committed this most recent massacre – instead, they blame law enforcement officers.
Tamaulipas Attorney General Irving Barrios Mojica announced 12 police officers are in custody on charges of homicide, abuse of authority and false statements. The motive remains unclear.
Asked about the similarities of the two massacres, Mexico’s inner minister, Olga Sánchez, said for the duration of a presidential briefing, “It be now not a San Fernando, because we are progressing in the investigation.
“There will probably be no impunity.”
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Mexican police, cartels team up to extort migrants
Noteworthy of northern Mexico and its borders are controlled by organized crime groups that force migrants to pay them before allowing them to faulty their territory.
Generally, migrants are kidnapped to extort money from their relatives in the U.S. Of us that don’t pay up may be killed.
“It be a dangerous commute,” said Todd Bensman, senior national security fellow for the Center of Immigration Reports. “It be very well identified that local police forces and even state police are working very intently all the time with cartels and human smuggling for obvious.”
As for what happened to the migrants chanced on in Santa Anita, Bensman can most effective speculate.
“It may have been that anyone did now not pay them, or they were ordered to carry out it for some other reason on behalf of the cartels,” he said. “‘When you do now not take care of this for us, then we are going to slay your families or something care for that.;”
According to an investigation last year by the Stratfor Global Intelligence, the U.S.-Mexico border is influenced by the strongest drug cartels, including Sinaloa, Jalisco Recent Generation and the Gulf Cartel.
“Most of the officers detained for this massacre were part of an elite community called GOPES (Special Operations Neighborhood), and it be now not the first time we have now heard from them,” security analyst Lilian Chapa Koloffon said. “The local government created this community to carry out excessive-profile operations, to detain of us or battle cartels in Tamaulipas.
“Certainly, they are concerned with illegal situations in which generally migrants are in the heart.”
Experts said migrants are at the mercy now not most effective of organized crime, nevertheless of Mexican police officers and immigration authorities.
Tamaulipas officials said some immigration officers are being investigated for this massacre.
It all combines to make migrants’ journeys all the more perilous.
“It has been documented by organizations that these of us may end up being victims of extortion by the Mexican immigration authorities and also police officers,” Koloffon said.
“It’s a lengthy trail of extortions, and it’s a very dangerous scuttle for all of them.”
How coyotes earn money smuggling migrants
The men getting paid to smuggle migrants across Mexico into the U.S. are called “coyotes,” or “polleros” (they call the Central American migrants they smuggle “pollos,” or chickens).
Migrants pay the coyotes large amounts of cash to avoid the authorities and government checkpoints, or “retenes,” spread all thru the south of Mexico.
Thousands of migrants have been caught making an attempt to travel north, detained by the Mexican National Guard for the duration of the past year in the Mexican state of Chiapas on Guatemala’s northwest border.
One such coyote talked about his job to The Louisville Courier Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network. The 50-year-old-fashioned man arrived at a resort room in Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas, wearing a gray T-shirt, jeans and black tennis footwear.
“I’ve been working with migrants for the past 25 years. Please, don’t use my name,” he told The Courier Journal.
In the south of Mexico, it’s a typical industry to work on “logistics” to circulation migrants from the south to the north of the nation, he said.
“My responsibility, it’s to take them from south to north, and it’s around $3,000, the further they near, the more expensive,” he said. “My warranty is that if they obtain caught, I have to retract them up again and don’t let them return their international locations, nevertheless attempt again.
“We have many ways to obtain to the U.S., nevertheless if there’s a chance to pay to an immigration officer, we’ll carry out it. We usually pay $200 per ‘pollo’ to the officers. The rate they pay is to meander to the north of Mexico. Once inner, you have to pay more in the event you want to meander to Las Vegas, Miami or Los Angeles. That’s another payment.”
Asked about the 19 of us killed in Tamaulipas, he said it happens a lot, nevertheless now not all cases obtain the same attention.
“I mediate these 19 of us didn’t have the permission or paid to use the territory,” he said. “You have to ask and negotiate before crossing, or you can obtain in inconvenience.”
Pains would now not stop poverty
Ingrid Tomás, Marvin’s sister, said discovering a coyote is now not sophisticated.
“I don’t know exactly how they work, nevertheless it’s easy to acquire them,” she said.
The family had to use some property to acquire the money to help Marvin leave for America, she said. Their surroundings help explain why he chose to meander.
Comitancillo is a small town in the San Marcos area of Guatemala, with hilly roads and mountainous landscapes decorating a land wealthy in Mayan tradition. While distinguished of the population speaks Spanish, Mayan languages are prevalent.
But poverty is widespread, with most of the homes constructed of mud and stone walls with thatched roofs. In fact, some locals said the few mountainous homes in town were constructed by Guatemalans living in the U.S. as a gift to their families.
Miguel Vasquez, a younger man selling rice tamales in downtown Comitancillo, said he knew Marvin. “We studied together for one year. He was the most effective man in the family, he did all the things for his siblings, was a great football player; unfortunately, he acquired the idea to leave. He had no luck.”
In Comitancillo, effort is everywhere.
Families are mourning and asking the Mexican and Guatemalan governments for help. They aloof don’t know when they will obtain their relative’s remains.
Asked if information of the slayings would deter children in Guatemala from making an attempt to reach the U.S., Vasquez gave the impact to doubt it would.
“I’ve been making an allowance for of leaving; at first it scares you to hear this unpleasant information, nevertheless as a younger man, here we all say that in the event you do now not attempt, you may now not ever know,” he said.
“My greatest dream it be to meander there to assemble a residence and reinforce my family, dwell the American dream, because actually, here you can’t have distinguished.”
Karol Suarez is a Venezuela-born journalist based out of Mexico City who covers Latin America. She reported from Guatemala for The Louisville Courier Journal on this story.
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