Guatemalan-Mexican Border: A Trip “in God’s Hands”
By Dialogo April 05, 2013
“We are leaving, but who knows whether we’ll be back,” an undocumented migrant says on board a precarious speedboat that disappears into the fog of the San Pedro River at dawn. It stretches across the border between Guatemala and Mexico, where the last and most feared part of the migrant’s trip to the U.S. starts.
Thirteen other people with the same goal are also onboard. They are part of about 140,000 undocumented men, women and children – mainly Latin American – who try to cross Mexico heading northbound every year. At least 20,000 of them will be kidnapped, and many others will suffer robbery, rape, forced recruitment by criminal groups, even murder, according to information from Mexican authorities.
Departing Los Naranjos, Guatemala, travelers sink into a tense silence. Nobody wants to say their name, where they come from or where they are going. There is only one woman onboard, seven boys that appear underage and a man with a beard… all of them fear that the valuable information might reach the ears of a ”hawk”, as mafia spies are called in Spanish.
The narrow boat penetrates the thick tropical forest of the isthmus under a suffocating sun, and then, in the distance, they see a cattle pen with dozens of white and amber cows. “That was my job, livestock. What am I going to do now?” says an immigrant wearing a cowboy hat.
“In my country, there is land to work, but people with money are occupying it, and we, the poor, have to watch from the sidelines. We’re forced to pay a war tax; otherwise, we get killed by the maras (gangs),” Aurelio, a 45-year-old Honduran immigrant aiming to reach Los Angeles to sow peppers, explains.
Aurelio does not travel alone. He is accompanied by his nephew and his son, David, who emigrated to the U.S. last year to work as a car mechanic. However, he was kept under arrest in Houston, Texas, for several months before being deported.
“In prison, we had our hands and feet handcuffed,” the 22-year-old man recalls, while removing the water built up at the bottom of the vessel.
“For a father, losing a child is hard. It is better to go with him, and not stay,” Aurelio whispers, not being able to conceal the sadness of leaving his wife behind.
“It is a really tough trip. I also met a buddy about to start this trip. I walked and I walked until I reached Los Pozos, a small town in Tabasco [in south east Mexico],” Wilmer Henríquez, a 32-year-old Guatemalan boatman who takes people to the Mexican shore near Tenosique, tells AFP.
“Once there, people take out bills, show them to the driver of ‘The Beast’ – the nickname of the freight train that goes through Mexico from south to north,” he remembers, smiling.
The train stops and all cars are boarded with loads of people within ten seconds,” describes a man who was thrown overboard for not paying the “fee.”
His smile disappears when he recalls seeing a Honduran woman dismembered by the train’s wheels when she attempted to jump on it while it was already moving. “I had given her my hand and I wanted to pull her up, but she went into the wheels, where she was cut to pieces… So much blood! Really tough,” he says.
He also remembers that on another occasion, the train stopped at a station where a group of men opened a car from which dozens of immigrants came out. Men were forced to submit all their belongings under the threat of knives; women were taken away. “Later, we heard that Los Zetas [the feared drug trafficking gang] did all that,” he said.
Some people pay human traffickers, so that in turn they pay the train driver to let them onboard the cars. “But then, Los Zetas give the driver even more money to give them the cars loaded with people,” Wilmen explains while maneuvering his boat in lizard-infested waters.
In his unsuccessful search for the American dream, Wilmer had to hide from immigration agents in drainage waters, and later in a swamp, where he got infested with leeches. He also faced days of hunger, thirst and cold; nights of extreme distress, as well as a shower of stones thrown at the train by Mexican inhabitants.
He did not even spend a full day in Houston, Texas, since immigration officers arrested him while he was using a pay phone.
The end of Wilmer’s story is just the beginning of Aurelio’s, who adjusts his hat with a solemn gesture before getting off the boat and venturing into Mexican trails. A human trafficker is waiting for him in a van. “It’s all in God’s hands,” he concludes.
Trips from Guatemala to the North America countries are very common, unfortunately the road is difficult and one faces a lot of danger during the trip.