Mexico: new mass kidnapping of immigrants reported

At least five Central American immigrants were forcibly removed from a freight train by about 10 armed men wearing hoods on June 24 near the village of Medias Aguas in the east central Mexican state of Veracruz, according to two immigrants who managed to escape. The number of people kidnapped could be as high as 80, according to the well-known immigrant rights activist Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, coordinator of the Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road (Hermanos en el Camino) shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec in the southern state of Oaxaca. Solalinde reported the kidnappings to the authorities after talking to the two witnesses.

Mexican criminal gangs have carried out a number of mass kidnappings of undocumented Central American immigrants as they travel through on their way to the US. A group of 20-50 immigrants were reportedly kidnapped near Chahuites, Oaxaca, on Dec. 16, and another group was seized on Dec. 22. A total of 72 immigrants from Central America, Brazil and Ecuador were kidnapped and then massacred last August in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Mass graves of abducted migrants were also discovered earlier this year in Tamaulipas and Durango states.

Solalinde said that on the morning of June 24 about 250 immigrants—including Central Americans and Mexicans from the southeastern state of Chiapas—left Ixtepec on a freight train known to immigrants as "The Beast." Most had stayed at Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road before taking the train. After traveling for 14 hours, the train was stopped by the armed men, who had brought at least three vehicles. The two witnesses said they saw five immigrants being taken away from their side of the train, but they thought that many more may have been seized. The witnesses also believed that the train operators were collaborating with the kidnappers.

State and federal authorities tended to play down the incident. On July 1 federal attorney general Marisela Morales told a reporter: "We still don't even have the exact number of people. And the act itself hasn't been confirmed; we just have reports." But Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, president of the government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), said he had no doubt that a kidnapping took place. "What's important," he added, "is that the authorities, rather than discrediting [victims and human rights defenders] or getting into a war of facts and figures, should show that they are acting, that they are seeking justice for a very vulnerable group." The CNDH reports receiving some 400 complaints about violations of immigrants' human rights during the first half of this year. (La Jornada, Mexico, June 29, July 2)

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