Tamaulipas Still Haunts Zetas Massacre Survivor

By Geraldine Cook
June 24, 2011

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Ten months after surviving the massacre where the Zetas drug cartel slaughtered 72
of his fellow U.S.-bound migrants in Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, the young man still
wakes up terrified from disturbing nightmares about that deadly night.

Ten months after surviving the massacre where the Zetas drug cartel
slaughtered 72 of his fellow U.S.-bound migrants in Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, the
young man still wakes up terrified from disturbing nightmares about that deadly
The wounded 18-year-old Ecuadorean, who escaped death by playing dead, walked
with a bullet in his neck all night long on Aug. 24 before reaching the Mexican
Marines security check point.
“I haven’t been able to forget the cruelty of those moments. At times I even
get dizzy and depressed when those memories assault me,” said the survivor, who
spent a week at a Mexican hospital recovering from his wounds.
In Ecuador, the teenager and 11 of his family members have been placed under
a witness protection program where they receive government assistance to pay for
housing and living expenses.
Today he works as construction worker earning $5 per day, which he says makes
it difficult to make ends meet.
“He has fainted several times for no apparent reasons,” said the young man’s
father, adding that his son needs medical and psychological treatment to help him
cope with the traumatic experience.
They live in an undisclosed location. Visitors who want to talk to him must
follow a highly secretive protocol after a lengthy approval process with the
The teen’s parents returned to Ecuador from the United States, where they
lived before the tragedy, to join their son after the Ecuadorean government offered
to help them with living expenses and 24-hour police protection.
“I’m afraid for his life,” said his father. “Some of the local migrant
smugglers are upset because of what Freddy has told authorities and the press. I
think we would be better off if we went back to live to the U.S. and our son is
allowed to go with us.”
The survivor said he paid Ecuadorean human trafficker Miguel Dutan to smuggle
him across Mexico’s northern border into the United States, where he planned to meet
his parents.
Authorities arrested Dutan, and charged him in the smuggling of Édgar Alfredo
Arcentales, one of the six reported Ecuadoreans killed in the massacre.
During a house search, authorities found $3,000 receipt that Dutan allegedly
wired a woman in Honduras as well as receipts from money received from the young man
and Arcentales.
At the time, Mexican government security spokesman Alejandro Poire said
migrants are frequently kidnapped by cartel gunmen demanding money.
The teen survivor didn’t want to talk about the incident, but he previously
told reporters on Gama TV that the Zetas offered to pay the migrants $1,000 every
two weeks to work as assassins. When they refused, the Zetas killed the 72 migrants,
he said.
“The victims could have been immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador
and Brazil,” Poire said at a news conference.
The Ecuadorean survivor did recall being seized by gunmen who identified
themselves as members of the Zetas after entering Mexico from Guatemala. He said
they blindfolded and tied him up, and that the Zetas kept him overnight in a house
before shooting him with a high-caliber weapon. He was one of four survivors.
“Among the 76 people there was a woman with an advanced pregnancy and her
little daughter, but they didn’t get killed. I don’t know where they took them. They
were not there (after the killing),” he told government investigators upon his
arrival in Ecuador.
The teenager also said a Honduran national, a friend of his, survived the
“There was a pal who wasn’t dead. He hid. I left with him. I saw a light that
was far away. I ran about 10 kilometers and the guy split thinking I wasn’t going to
make it and that I was going to die. He left me,” he said.
The survivor walked all night until he reached the Mexican Marines. He led
the officers to the bodies of 58 men and 14 women, but not before the Marines
clashed with the suspected drug cartel that left one Marine and three cartel members
dead. The Marines seized 21 assault rifles, shotguns and rifles.
The killing took place in a ranch at about 100 kilometers south of the
U.S.-Mexico border, an area that Amnesty International calls “one of the most
dangerous in the world.” Poire, citing the Mexican government, said cartels are
increasingly trying to recruit migrants as foot soldiers.
“It’s absolutely terrible and it demands the condemnation of all of our
society,” Poire said.
Meanwhile, the teen survivor’s family is still heavily in debt. Hia mother
said she still owes $16,000 to the smuggler she paid to take her to the U.S. two
years ago on a journey that included a sea trip to Central America before crossing