CENTRAL AMERICAN MIGRATION

                                                                                            

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The Mexican State is guilty of the criminal
violations of the human rights of migrants in transit,
either by direct action, or by omission, negligence,
collusion, protection, complicity and/or acquiescence

Ciudad de Mexico – Julio , 2016

Central America Migration

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Central American Migrants in transit through Mexico. Foto: @RubenFigueroaDH

Migration responds to multidimensional incentives, but the massive migrations of today are due to circumstances over which people have no control. It is an issue related to geopolitical interests, a global phenomenon which feeds from the political, economic and social inequality generated by the neoliberal economic system exemplified by the Free Trade Agreements, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, SPP, and more; all at the service of big capital and transnational companies, and where the United States of America have played a crucial role.

Historically, the US has intervened in Latin America by overthrowing democratically elected governments, financing atrocities and pushing trade policies that destroy local economies. The US government must recognize that conditions it helped create force people to leave their countries. Central Americans haven’t managed to overcome crime, violence, corruption, exploitation and poverty, in part because every time there is a possibility for change, the US provides money and weapons to either governments or their opposing forces, to halt their efforts.

Nicaragua was invaded in 1912 and occupied until 1933. Anastasio Somoza took over, launching a decades-long dictatorship with US support. When the Sandinista government rose to power the US began years of financing the “Contras,” a right wing group responsible for committing atrocities and smuggling drugs into de United States with the Regan administration knowledge. The Salvadoran military committed atrocities in the 1980s helped by US funding, including raping nuns, assassinating priests, killing hundreds of children. In Honduras, Manuel Zelaya became president in 2006 and responded to grassroots demands providing direct assistance to the poorest Hondurans, but by 2009 Zelaya was ousted in a violent coup orchestrated by powerful right-wing elites, with tacit support from the US government. The new government reversed Zelaya’s reforms and the country’s homicide rate jumped along with a major increase in political repression. As much as 70% of the nation’s police forces are corrupt. Yet US military and police aid to Honduras keeps on flowing. In 1944, Guatemala´s first democratic elections brought Juan José Arévalo to the presidency. Arévalo confiscated foreign estates to redistribute them to peasants; built new schools, hospitals and homes. Jacobo Árbenz became president in 1951, deepening Arévalo’s reforms. To crush “communism” and restore United Fruit’s profits, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) joined Guatemalan military officers to overthrow Arbenz in a 1954 coup. Decades of brutal repression ensued, peaking in the 1980s, when the Guatemalan military slaughtered 200,000 people and eliminated entire rural communities.

There is much more to be said about US intervention in Latin America and Mexico, among the most visible:

⦁ The U.S. funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, some of the recipients of military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the most violent of Mexican drug cartels: the Zetas.

⦁ The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. With NAFTA, cheap US subsidized agricultural products flooded the Mexican market, leaving farmers and other low-skilled workers without jobs, and sparked the migration of 5 million farmers and low skill workers to the US. From being self sufficiency in food, Mexico, now relies heavily on imports mainly from US. 

⦁ These and other actions of criminal capitalism have caused the expulsion of migrants from their places of origin because lack of employment and opportunities for survival, and has reduced human beings to a mere commodity. The level of inequality created is beyond belief. The engine of migration has been for many years the neoliberal system that has been imposed in the region.

This extreme inequality is collecting is dues by creating structural survival responses all over the Region in the form generalized violence and criminal activity.

Residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are being pushed northward by the world’s highest levels of criminal violence. As a region, México and Central America share a close third and fourth place with the highest number of violent deaths in the world, only after Syria e Iraq.

The indescribable level of violence that Central American families face, is rooted also on more recent historical events: Fleeing war from the early 80’s young people migrated to the US, only to find extreme violence from mafias and gangs in Mexican, African American and Asian ghettos. They counteracted by creating their own gangs like Mara Salvatrucha, and Barrio 18. By the 90´s the Central American gangs controlled many neighborhoods and ghettos through violence and criminal activities. The US authorities opted for mass deportation and over 100,000 young gang members that had grown up in the US and spoke mainly English were sent back, displacing the violence to their original places in Central America and de facto exporting and regionalizing criminal activity. Today, the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18, and smaller organizations control neighborhoods throughout Central America, using extreme brutality to obtain streams of money from extortion, kidnapping, prostitution, and street-level drug trafficking.

Mexico, has also exported its criminal cartels to the Central American countries. The Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas control most of organized crime in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and became partners with the Central American Maras, gangs and other criminal organizations in their business activities. Central American gangs are participating in the trafficking of undocumented immigrants, kidnappings, disappearances, extortion, and trafficking of young women for prostitution under the control of the Mexican cartels that use the Central American gangs to protect trafficking routes, transfer weapons, collect dues and debts and killing other cartel members.

⦁ The Scale of Forced Migration

This situation of unbearable violence was exposed by the increase of migrants going north through Mexico that escalated in the months of April, May and June of 2014 when, along with the regular stream of migrants, there were an unusual number of a) women with children between 0 and 12 years old, b) a large increase in young migrants between 14 and 18 years, c) and entire ethnic afro-descendant communities, the Garifuna, as their lands have been taken over by mega projects and corporate investments.

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Central American Migrants in transit through Mexico. Foto: Ruben Figueroa

A qualitative change in the attitude of the migrants was clear; they displayed a sense of emergency that prevail over any consideration of the enormous danger and the physical and personal sacrifice that the journey through Mexico implies. This was a population pushed by desperation, without any regard for consequences or tragedies waiting ahead. Seven out of ten migrants interviewed stated they were fleeing their countries due to death threats, extortion or the assassination of a relative by gangs or “the narcos.”

70% declared fear for their lives as the reason from leaving their countries, about 20% cited that there were going to join family members, and 10% expressed that there were in search of a “better future and to help their families”

In the case of Central American, the extreme violence, poverty and the development projects, compels us to examine current migration differently. We are not looking at historical migratory phenomenon; we are faced with a case of forced displacement in which the players cease to migrate for traditional reasons. Most are fleeing from extreme violence and the actual risk of imminent death.

Central American Governments, Mexico as well as the United States are unwilling to acknowledge these facts. For Central American countries, it would mean that they acknowledge their governments´ failure in providing their citizens with an environment suitable for achieving even a minimal state of well being.

For the US, beyond admitting their share of responsibility in causing this humanitarian crisis, the implication is that they would have to abide both by international law and their own migration regulations, and welcome this forced migrations persons in their country as asylum seekers, people who have moved across an international border in search of protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention, but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined. They are non deportable until a migration judge rules their claims unsubstantial.

Yet, In the US there is an increasing skepticism from some politicians and the media, about the credibility of the claims of many asylum seekers. They have been labeled ‘economic refugees’ and ‘bogus asylum seekers’, even against the facts showing that asylum seekers come from failed or failing states enduring extreme violence and with high degrees of human rights abuses and significant levels of poverty. In the light of undeniable evidence, at least 80% -if not all, the migrants from Central America should be considered subjected to force migration and thus they are Refugees.

3. Policies and institutions

The current humanitarian crisis, so widely exposed by the media, is the product of the toxic mix of US immigration policies, the hardening of border controls, militarization, and regional economic models that displace small agricultural producers and urban workers. These models and policies have produced in the entire region massive poverty, inequality and violence, while eroding governmental institutions and pushing to the limit their ability to govern.

After the terrorist attack on 9/11/2001, Mexico was hit by the paradigm shift in US National Security favoring the concept of “Homeland Security”, the militarization of internal security in the United States and the plan to shield the borders. The US government began to prosecute undocumented immigrants as criminals justifying its policy as a security anti-terrorism strategy. US law was amended to create the Department of Homeland Security and state immigration laws were reformed giving way to xenophobic and discriminatory policies that labeled undocumented immigrants as “Threats to National Security” to the US, in the same class as terrorism, drug trafficking and social movements. The United States has invested heavily in security along the southwestern border over the past decade, in large part to stop undocumented immigration. The Border Patrol, with more than 20,000 agents, doubled its manpower over the past decade. The budget of its ruling agency, Customs and Border Protection, has grown from $5.9 billion in 2004 to more than $12 billion in 2015.

In parallel, in 2001 Mexico’s government starts “Plan Sur”, a national security plan to control the flows of “people, drugs and arms”, in 2002 the Alliance for the Mexico-US Border included 33 actions to reinforce security in the area, and by 2004 the action Plan for Border Security US Mexico, was designed to use better technologies to facilitate removals and to enhance the mechanism of communication between officials from both countries.

By 2005, Canada, US and Mexico, signed the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) that marked the beginning of a new era in the Mexico-US bilateral relationship focused on combating drug trafficking and transnational organized crime. This SPP was finalized with the Merida Initiative, a three-year plan consisting of military training, technical assistance on security, operational technology and military equipment to Mexico to combat drug trafficking. The United States became Mexico´s principal partner on “security”. Subsequent and more aggressive agreements have followed.

It was during the preparatory discussions for the Merida Initiative when the National Migration Institute (INM) was included among the security agencies of the Mexican State, shifting its role from being in charge of the administrative tasks of managing migration to one focused on migration as a threat to national security, even as Mexico throughout its history had been a preferred host country for refugees from countries undergoing wars or political problems.

⦁ From the “War on Drugs” to “Southern Border Plan”

Crimes against migrants in Mexico have increased dramatically over the years, and began to get out of control from 2006 when the Mexican government declared “the war on drugs”, by 2010 reached the level of a humanitarian. There has been an expansion of trafficking networks in the region, operating both in the countries of origin and transit, particularly drug cartels that also deal in the kidnapping of migrants, trafficking of persons for sexual or labor exploitation and smuggling of migrants.

Ten Years of the “War on Drugs”:
Blood and drugs Flow, the guilty reap the benefits, the people pay.

Before 2006, organized crime was busy successfully dealing drugs. As controls tightened in the northern border, the cartels diversified their portfolio of crimes to include arms trade, piracy, trafficking in women, etc. A total of 22 illegal businesses go across the 3,085 kilometer border that the United States and Mexico share, including the very profitable business of managing migrations flows. Kidnapping and extortion of migrants has become a lucrative business not only for criminals but also for the public officers who protect them. Violence and criminality grew in Mexico from 2006 on, and by 2010 international agencies were deeming Mexico as the world’s most violent country for migrants.

The business of drug trafficking and violence in Mexico have caused the death of more than 60 thousand people from 2006 to 2012. The frequency of drug-related homicides has increased during the present administration. During this period, 26 thousand 121 people disappeared in the country, and the figure does not include migrants in transit through Mexico. The invisible migrants are not even part of the nations´ statistical data. Estimates and data from different sources show the following:

⦁ more than 20,000 abductions of migrants per year;
⦁ from 72,000 to 120,000 migrants missing in the period from 2006 to 2016,
⦁ an estimated 24,000 bodies buried in unmarked graves in municipal cemeteries,
⦁ 40,000 unidentified bodies in public morgues (SEMEFOS),
⦁ 174 clandestine mass graves have been acknowledged and keep appearing all over the country.

There is not one entity in the country where a criminal organization is not present. In about one third of the total, there are two or more cartels fighting for territorial control. Easily cartels corrupt institutions responsible for combating them.

Failure and destruction, increased crime and increased corruption, are the results from the “war on drugs” in Mexico as well as in the United States. This evident failure, forced the US government to submit, on April of this year to the Organization of the United Nations, a new position to combat the problem of substance abuse through a comprehensive policy based on public health and not just punitive measures. According to Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE), Miguel Ruiz Cabanas, the Mexican experience demonstrates the inadequacy of the punitive approach to drug use and drug trafficking, so more comprehensive and balanced policies are necessary.

The war on drugs is feed by arms trafficking, which in turn, impacts drug trafficking, violence and insecurity in Mexico. However, there is no political will on the US government to advance effective strategies for its control, no laws have developed and much less prevention plans. The 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the research arm of Congress stated that of the guns seized in Mexico, about 87% were of US origin. In Mexico’s an estimated 15 million weapons are circulating, of which 85 percent are illegal.

If illegal arms sales were no enough, a federal operation dubbed Fast and Furious allowed weapons from the U.S. to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers so the arms could be traced to the higher echelons of Mexican drug cartels. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which ran the operation, has lost track of hundreds of firearms, many of which have been linked to crimes, including the fatal shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

Arms trafficking has led to the empowerment of illegality and violence, linking youth groups and criminal practice, and expansion of the culture of violence through the media. Drug cartels have managed to thwart the efforts of Mexican and US authorities to track the flow of arms, sending them in pieces to Mexico and assembling them at home. Texas remains the state from which most US-origin weapons seized in Mexico come from. In the border areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas there are at least 6,700 armories. About 2,000 weapons are introduced illegally from the US to Mexico every day.

En 2014, the United States declared a “Humanitarian Crisis” and launched an institutional campaign to discourage migration and started emergency rounds of negotiations with all Central American nations and Mexico, this turned out to be a propaganda campaign designed to cover up the real humanitarian tragedy happening not in the US, but in Central American and in transit through Mexico. An excuse used to blame, as the American government has done, the “Irresponsible parents” and the smugglers, and thus to justify their increased policies of border militarization and “persuade” Mexico to stop migration in its own southern border. As a result Mexico, fast-tracked the “Southern Border Plan” after Barack Obama declared the unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied children and families seeking refuge at the US border an “urgent humanitarian situation”.

The misleading information given to the world’s audience is deliberate and obvious: About 65,000 “unaccompanied” children (0-17 years old) were detained by the United States Border Patrol in fiscal year 2014, (10/01/2013 to 09/30/2014). Of those detained, only about 500 children were under 5 years old, 1,300 between 5 and 12 and about 63,200 between 13 and 17. 95% were already turned over to their families in the US to wait for their “day in court”. We are talking about 1,800 children under 12 years old, which can hardly account for the US declaring itself in a crisis.

These youngsters (children) are surely entitled to the protection of the laws governing under age persons (0-17), but considering the socioeconomic conditions, in which their lives have been spent, youngsters over 14 years old can hardly be portrayed as “children”. The circumstances of their lives have forced then to assume adult roles. Many have worked for years helping their families and many already have their own families who sustain, they are best described as “young migrants, independent and undocumented”.

Nor is it totally accurate to use the term “unaccompanied” because it creates the false impression that they are traveling alone, rather it refers to a legal technicality meaning that there is no “parent or guardian” present. The term is misleading as younger ones do travel with their mothers; most others travel with friends, family members, smugglers, and many of the older ones (14-17) have always traveled alone.

None the less, the campaign was believed by most human rights defenders and it well served its purpose. We now have in place the “PLAN FRONTERA SUR”, a policy that allows security forces from across Mexico to be deployed into migrant hot spots with US funding through the Merida Initiative.

In southern Mexico migration police officers guard traditional crossings places and new, more dangerous and expensive routes are already starting to emerge as migrants and smugglers adapt to the new rules of the game. Men, women and children are forced to go into hiding in alternative pathways –tropical jungles and forest- where local gangs and organized crime, in complicity with different governmental and civil society actors, are awaiting. More invisible than before as they are not moving along the railroad tracks.

Migrantes cruzan un rio para evaadir un punto de revision migratoria

Central American Migrants in transit through Mexico. Foto: Ruben Figueroa

Under this plan, Mexican authorities have now arrested more undocumented migrants and more unaccompanied minors from Central America than the United States. 80,221 migrants were deported from Mexico in 2014, and almost twice as many, 152,323 faced deportation in 2015.

What these numbers clearly imply is that Mexico has taken on a new role as an immigration enforcer and that this role has come in response to US pressure. A State Department official said: “Mexico is a trusted partner on this issue and has made great efforts to stem the flow of unaccompanied minors across our shared border and at its
southern border. We continue to rely on Mexico for its cooperation and support even as the numbers of unaccompanied minors apprehended at our border drops.”

In July 10, 2015, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over stepped-up actions reportedly being taken against migrant persons and those who defend their rights in Mexico since the Southern Border Plan (Plan Frontera Sur) was put into operation: […] reiterates that the State of Mexico must immediately and urgently adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the rights to life, physical integrity, and safety of migrants in transit through Mexico, as well as the rights of migrants’ human rights defenders. […]Moreover, the IACHR urges the State to implement international standards regarding the use of force in immigration control operations; investigate, on its own initiative, acts such as those described above; punish agents responsible for human rights violations; and provide reparation to the victims of these violations.

The Commission reiterates the importance of the principle of exceptionality of immigration detention, as well as the prohibition on the detention of child migrants. […] In terms of deportation proceedings, the Commission reaffirms the State’s need to observe due process guarantees and to guarantee the right to seek and receive asylum, the protection of the principle of non-return, and the absolute prohibition of mass expulsions”.

The illegal “fast-track” deportation strategies favored by both countries are further risking the lives of the minors leaving Central America motivated by specific threats to their security, yet neither Mexico nor the United States are adequately screening these minors for protection concerns, and the overwhelming majority are deported rapidly back to the situations they were fleeing from. Elizabeth Kennedy, a social scientist at San Diego state university, has compiled a comprehensive estimate of US deportees who have been murdered on their return to Central America since January 2014 based on local newspaper reports. Her forthcoming research identified 45 such cases in El Salvador, 3 in Guatemala and 35 in Honduras. “These figures tell us that the US (and Mexico) is returning people to their deaths in violation of national and international law. Most of the individuals reported to have been murdered lived in some of the most violent towns in some of the most violent countries in the world – suggesting strongly that is why they fled,” Kennedy said.

Mexico’s Southern Border Program will be remembered as the unlawful instrument used by the Mexican and US States to contain transit migration through Mexico. It has not able to halt migration as contention measures have proven to be successful only to feed the military-arms-war industry, while migrants keep on fleeing to escape unbearable conditions in their places of origin.

As for the strategy in Central America, the White House is asking congress to provide $1 billion in aid to help El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The package includes $400 million for promoting prosperity and regional economic integration, with an emphasis on such goals as “trade facilitation” and “creating friendly business environments” promoting the neoliberal economic policies the US has been imposing in Central America for the past 25 years: “privatization”, “free trade,” and “open markets”. Another $300 million earmarked in more aid to police and armed forces. Plan Colombia has been mentioned as a model for security enhancement, when it is now public knowledge that Plan Colombia has used the “war on drugs” as a pretext to bolster the Colombian military’s war on its opponents, and it has pushed drug trafficking deeper into Mexico and Central America.

As if that were not enough, “About 250 Marines are preparing to form the U.S. military’s first rapid-response task force to be based in Central America, where they’ll train local forces battling drug cartels. Small teams of Marines have been deployed to Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador in recent years to train local forces to combat cartels and narcotics traffickers. The new task force is part of a broader effort by SOUTHCOM and Marine leaders to partner more closely with other Marine Corps, navies, armies and coast guards in the region.

All of these actions support the argument presented: The Humanitarian crisis is a cover up to justify more intervention, more militarization, more economic deals, and more of the same trade policies and security assistance that have driven thousands of people into forced migration.

Also, the ever-present geopolitical imperatives: It is clear that United States are reclaiming territorial control over the region as well as the South Cone faced with diminished influence and control over Latin America because of the influence of “populist left wing” regimes. Although these regimes are encountering a back lash, nevertheless have instruments that challenge the United States Hegemony such as the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), a regional integration project and one of the world’s leading economic blocs, it is the fifth largest economy. Mercosur comprises six member countries—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and Bolivia. The group encompasses 295 million people and has a combined GDP of nearly $3.5 trillion. Mercosur also counts Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname that serve as associate members. The newest block, the Pacific Allianceseeks to create a Latin American gateway to Asian markets. Composed of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, con Costa Rica y Panamá as Observers States, viable candidates to be members. The bloc is pursuing commercial, economic, and political integration among member countries. It accounts for more than one-third of Latin America’s GDP and exports about 60% more than the Southern Common Market (Mercosur). There is also the intent to reinforce US control of the Central American territory in view of the challenges presented to the US by the China-Russian connection defying US hegemony, and the possible construction of the Nicaraguan Canal.

⦁ Violence against migrants in transit:
Migrants in transit through Mexico, are in the hands of organized crime and their accomplices, and represent the main source of income for the cartels through kidnapping, extortion and smuggling, trafficking and forced use of their labor in support of extralegal activities. All this reflects the extreme vulnerability and lack of protection of migrants, as their irregular status makes them easy victims of crime and subject to violation of their humans rights, either by criminal organizations, common criminals and authorities at all levels of government. The control on the southern border of Mexico has led to an open hunting season of Central American migrants by Mexican authorities. Migrants in Mexico are arrested, abused and robbed of cash they were carrying, but also through dealings with smugglers or coyotes and the Zetas, Mexican authorities receive generous “compensation” to let flow the human traffic on roads, airports and roads, sea and rail. Although the volume has increased, the atrocities are not new. August of 2010, marks a milestone when the slaughter of San Fernando, Tamaulipas left 72 bodies of migrants, 47 mass graves discovered in the same municipality in April 2011 uncovered 193 bodies, the massacre of Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon that led to a toll of 49 dismembered victims found between May 12 and 13, 2012, and transit migrants who have not disappeared or died, but nonetheless suffer all sorts of criminal assaults at the hands of organized or common crime in partnership with Mexican local, state and federal authorities, either by direct action, omission, negligence, collusion, protection, and/or acquiescence.

The following reflect the most common crimes against migrants in Mexico.

– Robberies and extortion: petty crime, organized crime and state agents, take their money and belongings all along the migrant trail. Migrants are also subjected to pay the “right of way” fee, as a condition to allow them to continue their journey. These offenses against migrants are also committed by municipal, state and federal police forces and even by the armed forces. Gang members, reportedly Maras from Central America backed by the Zetas, extort migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador out of $100 to $300 per freight train stop in Mexico. By the time the train skirts Mexico City, the journey may have cost migrants up to $800. Those who fail to pay risk being thrown from the train. This is before accounting for the costs of paying smugglers at the border that help migrants enter the US.

– Discrimination, abuse of authority and excessive use of force against migrants: migrants are subjected to stereotyping and stigmatization, which makes them vulnerable and prey to violent acts. According to migrants´ and organizations´ testimonies, migration agents take advantage of operational control and verification to commit criminal acts against migrants. The abuses by the authorities include stealing their belongings, physical and psychological aggression and excessive use of force. These occur not only during detention and transfer of migrants; rather migration officials or municipal, state, and federal police as well as the armed forces may stop them on the road for the sole purpose of extortion.

– Kidnapping: It has become an industry for organized crime to kidnap migrants and coerce their families to pay for their rescue. The amount requested to release them may go up to ten thousand dollars, most of the time to cover the fee for the criminal organization´s promise to take them to across the border. People found in “safe houses” are proclaimed by the authorities to have been rescued. It is not that simple. The criminal cartels control from east to west, the entire 1,951 miles long border as well as all crossings of people and merchandise, and everyone is forced to pay, either directly to the cartel, or to other actors that have made agreements to pay a quota for the right to do business. There are different reasons for the migrants to end up in a “safe house”. Some are forced to “hire” the cartel to take them across the line, some have indeed hired them and are waiting for their families to wire the final payment, and some may have already paid and are just waiting for the sign that is it time to go. In the span of time that they remain in captivity, migrants are forced to work for their captors and they are subjected to physical, sexual and psychological violence. Payment of the ransom does not guarantee that migrants are released. Killings and disappearances have been reported due to organ harvesting, selling them to traffickers, punishment for refusing to work in narcotics fields, laboratories and other related tasks, or just to set an example, or for trying to escape, etc. There is ample testimonial information accusing State authorities of being involved in the abductions. Some have stated that the police or other State agents detained them and then sold them to the cartels. The scenario is very explosive, to say the least, query, tired afraid and hungry men and women migrants thrown together for days with all kinds of strangers, in the hands of violent criminals often high on alcohol and drugs, were any incident can spark a murder scene.

– Human trafficking: Human trafficking is the illegal use of individuals for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, removal of organs, servitude or any form of slavery. Child and people trafficking is the third most lucrative illegal business worldwide just under drug trafficking and weapons showing a volume of business worth over 32 billion dollars. An estimated 21 million people are enslaved by human trafficking in the world and according to UNICEF data, the number of girls and children disappeared each year worldwide is one million 200 thousand. Mexico is a country of origin, transit and destination of people trafficked to and from Central and North America for sexual exploitation and forced labor, generating about 10 billion dollars per year. The most vulnerable groups are women, children, undocumented migrants, indigenous people, peasants, and precarious workers. Migrants in transit through Mexico often end up working for these criminal organizations and women are used as sex slaves in hands of these networks. Mexico is the second largest supplier of persons trafficked to the United States after Thailand. According to official data, about 20 thousand Mexican children are victims of sexual exploitation in the hands of traffickers particularly in the border and in tourist areas. Mexican cartels have expanded their traditional operations to include immigrant smuggling and trafficking migrants in transit. Women and girls are abducted by these criminal organizations to be used as sex slaves. The growing side of the human trafficking business is organ harvesting. Traffickers pay around six thousand dollars for an organ that they sell for $100,000 to $ 250,000, according to data from the Interpol in Mexico. Organ harvesting is a crime that calls for complex investigation, “To punish this crime you must investigate all the logistics that involve private clinics, doctors, medical and laboratory personnel, Customs authorities, and countless actors. Organs are in high demand, and the market is pushing to supply them”. “Organ donors” are taken alive to the United States, where there are clinics and corrupt doctors who operate and extract their organs. There is some unconfirmed information that some clinics in Mexico are also in the business. The stolen children never appear. The main victims of organ trafficking are migrants on their way to the United States. In northern Mexico there are places where kidnapped people showing the best physical condition are chosen to have their organs removed. Sheltered by the indolence or complicity of the authorities, kidnapping gangs operate virtually throughout the nation. Minors are stolen either by individuals or by small local bands, which in turn, sell them to organ traffickers or to brokers of sexual trade. Organ trafficking is not yet a well known activity but even INTERPOL is now investigating in Mexico.

– Forced Disappearance and Disappearance of migrants: Estimates from the National Commission on Human Rights 2011 report on kidnappings, account for about 20,000 migrants kidnapped per year since 2006 and the figures are growing. Due to the fact that kidnappings lead to many migrants never to be seen again, different estimates place the numbers of disappeared migrants from 70,000 to 120,000 from 2006 to date. There is ample evidence of government official’s complicity with organized crime, which legally typifies these disappearances as Forced. The MMM has been hosting a Caravan of Central American Mothers that come to Mexico in search of their missing family members. Also MMM has started a program in Honduras to collect direct information from the country of origin. In three days work, placing a table on the central plaza of small towns, over 200 cases were documented, which shows the staggering volume of the missing. On September of 2015 in Geneva, the Chairman of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which monitors the implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Forced Disappearance, said “This is the first time the
Committee examines cases of missing migrants.” The scope of the issue is not only the duty of the Committee, but also of other international organizations and bodies. Article 24 of the Convention described the obligation of each State party to take all necessary measures to search for, locate and release disappeared persons.

– Sexual violence against migrant women: in addition to the inherent vulnerability of their status as irregular migrants, women face double vulnerability of their gender, which repeatedly makes them likely to be victims of sexual violence in the immigration context. Woman, but also to a lesser degree, man are sexually abused by other migrants, by government officers, police, armed forces, migration officers, gang members and organized crime. Direct testimonies collected in the migrant shelters on the migrant route; indicate that 6 to 7 out of 10 women had been raped on the road.

– Barriers to access to justice and impunity: The vulnerability of undocumented migrants becomes an obstacle to access the justice system. Most do not report crimes that are committed against them. This is because, on the one hand, they do not know of rights that Mexican law grants them and, secondly, because of the distrust that migrants feel for Mexican law enforcement authorities. Impunity prevails and compensation for damages is unheard of. Mexican police usually mistreat them and send them to migration detention centers where they stay indefinitely while the authority concludes its investigation, which in most cases leads nowhere. The testimony of migrants who dared to denounce is that they had been so traumatized by their experience that had surrendered voluntarily to the National Migration Institute (INM) to be deported. Others went back on their own to their countries, because they were afraid that INM agents would deliver them to the same people that they were accusing. Migrants are often accused of crimes that they did not commit and they are given higher sentences that a citizen of Mexico receives. On cases reviewed by MMM, we found that due process is seldom followed; excessive long sentences were given (4 years for stealing 200.00 Mexican pesos, about 10.00 US dollars) Consulates were not notified, etc.

The response of the Mexican government against undocumented migration, particularly from Central America, has resulted in migration policies dictated by the host country, the United States. In many cases Migrants do not know their rights or prefer not to exercise them to go unnoticed.

What is very clear is that the extreme suffering of millions of people is to be blamed on all nations involved. The migration issue can only be solved through regional strategies that address the right to migrate and to return home, the right not to be forcibly displaced and the right not to migrate.

6. People’s Response

In Mexico, from 2014 to date, hundreds of thousands of people have protested all over the country. Protesters are demanding the Return of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa teachers school who were abducted by local police in Guerrero last September and no credible information has been offered by the authorities and boycotted the elections (June 7). Other key issues are Impunity, (98% of legal suits in Mexico end up overthrown), the disappearance of thousand of Mexican people as well as migrants. corruption, violence, defense of the territory, mining, indigenous rights, feminicides, mega projects, assassination of journalists, persecution of human rights defenders, human rights violations, militarization, and criminalization of social protest.

Special attention should be given to the Mexican independent teachers that have for months now strongly mobilized against a so-called Education Reform that rather than dealing with models of education is an instrument of labor control against the teachers who struggle against the standardization of education and its privatization. Teachers have suffered a vicious campaign of vilification and criminalization, which has not finally managed to disable their movement that is prompting solidarity from many parents and social movements throughout the country in these recent months.

The teachers request dialogue and consultation about the Educational Reform, while the government continues stating that will not back down, and already started to violently suppress the protests. Deaths have already being caused by police firing on unarmed protesters.

All of these protests have been given the same treatment that the PRI –the political party in power- has historically mastered: By infiltrating and co-opting opposing forces when possible, along with brutally repressing the others. The ability of the Mexican government to control social anger reduces the possibility that this scenario of strong social mobilizations will attain radical and permanent changes in today´s Mexico.

Yet, people of Latin America are re-organizing. In recent weeks, angry people have been marching on centers of authority and scuffling with agents of the law. Hundreds if not millions of people protesting in response of the generalized record of blatant human rights violations, extreme violence and corruption scandals currently ensuing in Latin America. There is a strong movement of civil organizations defending human, migrant, land, sexual, reproductive, and LGBT rights all through Central America. Many have networked with allied organizations worldwide.

As for the issue of migration, the engine for social action have been the Central American mothers who have one or more family members missing, and whose last contact was from somewhere in Mexico, while on their way north.

Their activism first got underway in El Progreso, Honduras, in 1999, with two women united by having lost contact with their migrant children. The two decided to organize the Committee of Relatives of Migrants from El Progreso (COFAMIPRO) and take to the road. In December of 2000 the first search tour got as far as Tecún Umán City, in northwest Guatemala on the border with Mexico, and Tapachula, on the Mexican side of the border in the state of Chiapas.

Luis Angel Nieto, co-founder of MMM embarked on a journey through the migration route starting in Central America in 2006. During his tour, Nieto met the group of mothers from El Progreso, Yoro, Honduras, who carried out extremely precarious tours to the border with Mexico. MMM’s collaboration with the mothers of missing migrants emerges thereafter, and we began to accompany them in their annual tour. By 2008, Movement Migrant Mesoamerican became the organizing arm of the caravan throughout Mexico, involved mothers from the other Central American countries and activated a qualitative change getting the attention of both national and international media as well as the Mexican government officials, as well as the involvement, in hosting the caravan in their places of residence, of numerous Mexican NGO’s and human rights defenders, particularly the migrant shelters. As a result, the issue of the violations of the rights of migrants was positioned as an important issue on the national agenda.

From 2012, women from the four different Central American Countries-Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have made the trip together. The families of the migrants have established a solid network of Organizations in defense of human rights, among others, the Committee of Relatives of Migrants of El Progreso (COFAMIPRO), Committee of Relatives of Dead and Missing Migrants, El Salvador (COFAMIDE); Committee or Migrant Families of Central Honduras (COFAMICENH); National Bureau for Migration in Guatemala (MENAMIG); Jesuit Service for Migrants; the Scalabrini’s Pastoral of Human Mobility; Project Counseling Service; CONAMIREDI; CARECEN International, El Salvador; Pastoral of Human Mobility of the Episcopal Conference, Guatemala; Central American Institute of Social and Development Studies, INCEDES; Guatemalan Federation of Radio Schools, FGER; Community Study and Psycho-Social Action Team, ECAP; Asociacion Coordinadora Comunitaria de Servicios para la Salud ACCSS, Guatemala.

What started with a handful of very poor unorganized Honduran women, through their persistence grew in numbers; their organization prevailed and they were even able to help others organize. This effort became known as The Caravan of Central American Mothers Searching for Their Disappeared Family Members in Transit Though Mexico: The Caravan of Central American Mothers.

Hosting the Caravans work in Mexico has been a major challenge for those associated with the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement. The caravan has driven us to join efforts with more than 120 different civil organizations, in order that to be the local hosts of the Caravan during its transit through the country. It is also a challenge for the political implications of direct accusations and the demands the government of Mexico.

Our goals are a) to find missing family members in transit through Mexico, whether alive, killed, deprived of liberty or subjected to traffic, to not allow that the missing migrants remain ignored and declared non-existent; b) to denounce loud and clear the criminal aggressions that migrants suffer in their transit through México; c) to bear witness to the inhuman and criminal treatment that the Mexican State allows to take place to migrants in transit; d) to demand that the complicity, impunity, and the direct participation of officials and public servants in acts of kidnapping and forced disappearance are eradicated; e) to elicit solidarity towards migrants from the Mexican population; and d) to empower the families of missing migrants.

The heightened violence, the passivity of the States in undertaking research or exercising concrete actions to find missing persons in Mexico, the impunity, the silence of some sectors society, have a damaging affect in society as a hole and must end.
7. Issues

To document the undocumented is the best alternative to end the violation of migrant’s human rights. It would discourage criminal activity. It would also render unnecessary the millions of dollars used to contain the flow of migrants, and it would facilitate circular migration where international workers would return home when work becomes scarce and go back when their labor is needed. The increment of undocumented migrants in host countries happens when the containment measures obstruct their mobility. There is an obvious and most urgent need for a comprehensive regional public policy that addresses migration from Central America and Mexico, as countries of origin, transit, destination and return and that guaranties the right to migrate, not migrate and not to be forcibly displaced.

⦁ Even though there is overwhelming evidence of the systematic violation of human rights of migrants, neither Mexican nor Central American authorities have taken concrete measures for the prevention, investigation and punishment of these crimes.

The huge numbers of disappeared migrants in transit through Mexico and broken families waiting for their return or searching for them make it necessary to implement the following concrete measures to guarantee their right to truth, justice and compensation, we request:

⦁ A special prosecutor agency to deal with all crimes perpetrated against migrants, in coordination with national and regional levels.
⦁ National and regional mechanisms for the immediate search of all missing persons. Families should not have to search for themselves.

⦁ Building a national and regional bank of forensic data of unidentified remains, with the support of civil society and independent experts.
⦁ The implementation of a Mexican and Regional governmental program of comprehensive care for migrant families and missing persons who have been victims of crimes committed in transit and injuries from the inhuman conditions that prevail during the migratory journey.
⦁ An independent international commission of forensic experts to investigate the identities of migrants in the case of the 72 migrants killed and the remains found in San Fernando and those that are unidentified and belong to Cadereyta, as well as the remains found in all clandestine mass graves and common graves in Mexican cemeteries, plus all remains found in the Mexican morgues.

Some of those concrete measures have already been put in place in Mexico, yet no results have been accomplished because of lack of resources and lack of political will. Facing the existing shameless institutional and political vacuum, civil society organizations have accompanied the mothers searching for their relatives in demanding access to the basic human rights of truth and justice. “the scarce government actions to face the terrible crime of force disappearances have failed” said last night Jan Jarab, representative in Mexico of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, “… no sufficient advances in searching, investigations to bring to justice the perpetrators..”
⦁ International action is required to reverse the global humanitarian crisis facing migrants that have headed north across scorching deserts and menacing seas to save their lives, follow their dreams of to escape poverty and find a better life. The so-called migration crisis arises because of the vast imbalances between North and South with regard to economic conditions, social well-being, and human rights. Border restrictions, however draconian, will do nothing to eliminate unwanted migration flows, as long as these fundamental disparities persist, and, forced migrants of every category will be part of those flows.

We dream about reaching the Mesoamerican Citizenship as integrator of the peoples of the sub-region of our continent and to result in a zone of free human mobility, where all governments not only guarantee the right to free movement, but the full and complete enjoyment of human rights of migrants for all citizens in the countries in the sub-region.

This necessarily implies the rejection of policies radically contrary to the dream of equality and justice, policies that have been applied under the SPP, making regional governments complicit in the policies dictated by the United States that is driven to criminalize migrants and encourage criminal enterprises around migration (kidnapping, extortion, smuggling and trafficking in persons, etc.), the payoff is not only perpetuating the use of migration as cheap labor in United States territory, rather it is another excuse to justify militarization of Mesoamerica under the tutelage of the US. The failure of these policies is apparent and is made visible in the humanitarian crisis that exists with the hundreds of thousands of deaths over the last 10 to 15 years.

⦁ International solidarity is a must. ⦁ Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson suggest that:

⦁ “We can also continue to push for renegotiation of existing pacts like NAFTA and DR-CAFTA, and demand that our government uphold whatever protections these pacts are supposed to include.
⦁ Join campaigns to end the ⦁ detention and ⦁ deportation of immigrants and refugees, and demand a just immigration policy.
⦁ Join ⦁ anti-sweatshop campaigns and help workers defend their rights in Central America and beyond.
⦁ Support efforts to reverse harsh drug laws and ⦁ incarceration and redirect resources to community-based treatment and prevention programs.
⦁ Support campaigns to crack down on ⦁ militarization, including the manufacture, sales and trafficking of weapons.
⦁ Support Central American and Mexican ⦁ activists struggling to regain community control of land and resources.

Ending forced migration requires changing the way receiving countries deal with developing nations. This includes ending military intervention, overturning austerity policies and ending trade and investment pacts that lead to economic polarization. These measures could help people to achieve the right to stay home, to make migration a voluntary choice, rather than an act forced by the need to survive. An immigration policy that protects migrants from drowning or dying in the desert must link basic rights: the right to stay home, the right not to be forcefully displaced and the right of equality and dignity when people migrate.

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“Freedom of Transit”  ¡ URGENT ! Foto: Ruben Figueroa

 

Marta Sanchez Soler

General Coordinator of Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

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