On June 4 Mexican army soldiers freed 165 people, mostly Central Americans, who the authorities said had been held for as much as three weeks by an unidentified criminal organization at a safe house in Las Fuentes, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz municipality, a few miles from the US border in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. One person, apparently a lookout for the kidnappers, was arrested. The captives were reportedly migrants planning to cross illegally into the US; the smugglers (“polleros“) they had hired may have turned them over to a criminal group, possibly the Gulf drug cartel or the Los Zetas gang.
According to the government, the group kidnapped was composed of 77 Salvadorans, 50 Guatemalans, 23 Hondurans, 14 Mexicans and one Indian national. There were 20 minors, including seven under the age of 13; two of the women migrants were pregnant. The federal National Migration Institute (INM) removed the 151 foreign nationals to Mexico City and began deporting them on June 7.
The June 4 rescue was the second largest such operation reported by the government to date, but the kidnapping of migrants—either for ransom or to be used as drug couriers—has become increasingly common over the past few years. In January 2009 a total of 189 Central Americans were found hidden in Reynosa, Tamaulipas; the kidnappers were demanding a $5,000 ransom for each. A military operation rescued 88 migrants in Arriaga in the southeastern state of Chiapas in 2010; 54 kidnapped migrants were found in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state’s capital, in March of this year. Some 11,000 migrants were kidnapped in just six months in 2010, according to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). The most notorious case occurred in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, in August 2010, when a Los Zetas group massacred 72 Central and South American migrants who refused to turn over their cash or work for the gang.
Alberto Xicoténcatl, director of the Migrant House shelter in Saltillo, Coahuila, warned that the kidnapping of migrants is on the rise, partly because of complicity by government employees. “We know that the army goes to the [criminal groups’] safe houses and gets paid to keep quiet,” he told the Mexican daily La Jornada. “What happened a few days ago in Tamaulipas was a matter of an accidental discovery and didn’t result from a real investigation.” The military found the 165 kidnap victims because of a tip from a civilian. (New York Daily News, June 6; La Jornada, Mexico, June 7, June 9, June 9)
Foreign nationals aren’t the only victims; thousands of Mexicans are being murdered or kidnapped each year. The Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) reported on Feb. 26 that 26,121 people disappeared in the 2006-2012 period. The British-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) released a 16-page report in Mexico City on June 4 citing the “systematic failure” of the government in dealing with the phenomenon. The report, “Confronting a Nightmare: The Disappearance of People in Mexico,” noted the complicity or responsibility of government employees in many of the cases. AI reviewed 152 disappearances for the report; in 85 of them “there are sufficient signs of the implication of public officials… and of a lack of diligence on the part of the authorities to locate the victims.” (LJ, June 5 ; Los Angeles Times, Feb. 26)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 9.