Mexico: activists march for Central American immigrants

Mexican activists, local residents and state authorities committed themselves to working for the rights of Central American immigrants at the Jan. 8 conclusion of a caravan from Arriaga in the southwestern state of Chiapas to the nearby town of Chahuites in Oaxaca. Oaxaca governor Gabino Cué Monteagudo met with the caravan’s members at the Chahuites municipal auditorium while local residents, mostly members of the Zapotec indigenous group, carried signs with slogans welcoming “brother and sister migrants” and telling them to “feel at home” in the town. “What we’re clear about is that in this state’s territory the human rights of Oaxacans and of other people, wherever they come from, will be maintained,” the governor promised. (El Universal, Mexico, Jan. 9)

The caravan was organized to fight attacks on undocumented Central American immigrants as they travel from Guatemala through Chiapas to Oaxaca, often by riding freight trains, on their way to the US. In addition to arresting the immigrants, Mexican police and immigration authorities sometimes rob the Central Americans or demand bribes, and criminal gangs, including the brutal Los Zetas drug traffickers, have carried out mass kidnappings, demanding ransoms from the immigrants’ relatives. A group of 20-50 immigrants were kidnapped near Chahuites on Dec. 16, and another group was seized on Dec. 22. The president of the government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, said on Jan. 7 that the commission had recorded 214 mass kidnappings in 2010, with 10,000 kidnapping victims just in the six months from April to September. (People’s Weekly World, US, Jan. 5; La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 7)

About 100 activists and religious people joined the Jan. 7-8 “Step by Step Toward Peace” caravan, including Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, coordinator of Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road, a shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca; Irineo Mújica, a member of Amnesty International; and Elvira Arellano, an activist with the Chicago-based United Latino Family Without Borders who was deported from the US in 2007. The authorities eventually provided police protection for the caravan, but initially they were hostile. Arellano reported that National Migration Institute (INM) personnel intercepted her, her son Saúl and Irineo Mújica on Jan. 4 and called local police.

The activists originally planned to ride from Arriaga on Jan. 7 on a freight train often used by the immigrants, but authorities announced that the train—which Central Americans have nicknamed “The Beast“—wouldn’t run again until Jan. 10. The group instead drove most of the 40 km to Chahuites in a caravan, walking the last 5 km alongside the train tracks. (LJ, Jan. 8)

A 17-year-old Mexican youth, Ramsés Barrón Torres, was shot dead around 3 am on Jan. 5 on the Mexican side of the border fence that separates Nogales, Sonora, from Nogales, Arizona. The circumstances remain under investigation. Sonora police said Barrón Torres was shot by an agent of the US Border Patrol. Barrón Torres, who lived near the fence, was apparently returning to Mexico from the US side with a friend when the shooting occurred. US authorities have implied the the youth was involved in drug smuggling, but neighbors and family members suggested that he had been visiting a girlfriend who lives on the US side. (LJ, Jan. 6, Jan. 8; Nogales International, Arizona, Jan. 7; Arizona Daily Star, Jan. 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 9.

See our last posts on Mexico, the Mexican crime wars, and the politics of immigration.