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"Liberating Hope": A Journey of Central American Families in Search of Disappeared Migrants
Transcript of "Liberating Hope": A Journey of Central American Families in Search of Disappeared Migrants
October 15th-November 3rd why people left? american dream..inability for people to inter legally makes them vulnerable Six families were successfully reunited during the 19 day long journey. We interviewed two of the participants, Martha y Doña Teo, upon their return to their homes in Chinandega, Nicaragua.
Sadly the other members of the caravan are still searching for answers and they are not alone.
One of the organizers of the caravan, the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, estimates that over 70,000 migrants have gone missing in Mexico between 2006 and 2012. Mexican authorities estimate that around 140,000 migrants cross the Mexican/Guatemalan border annually, while other estimates are much higher. Mexico's National Human Rights Commission, CNDH, estimated in February 2011 that approximately 11,000 migrants had been kidnapped in the previous six months. Most are subject to extortion and abuse. Amnesty International reported that as many as six in ten migrant women and girls are raped along their journey.
Others estimate the rate of sexual assault is even higher but is under reported.
Many women take a contraceptive injection before embarking on the journey to avoid a pregnancy resulting from rape. Thousands of migrants travel through Mexico to the United States by riding on top of a train known as “la bestia” or “the beast” where they are vulnerable to gangs and injuries from the train that could cost them their lives. Migrants become easy prey for both organized crime and corrupt Mexican police or immigration authorities. However, while much of the violence occurs in Mexican territory, U.S. policies fuel this deadly journey. "Liberating Hope" : A Journey of Central American Families in Search of Disappeared Migrants Produced by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua/Honduras Team in collaboration with the Witness for Peace Mexico Team This fall a caravan made up of 38 Central American mothers, sisters and brothers traveled through Mexico looking for disappeared loved ones. Many of the disappeared left their homes with the intention of reaching the United States. Their families covered almost 4,600 kilometers through 14 states and 23 towns along the migrant route looking for answers.
Witness for Peace met with Nicaraguan and Honduran families who participated in this caravan. The following recounts the realities that Central American migrants face during their perilous journeys to the United States and the stories of some of the mothers who followed those footsteps. “Transnational migration continues to be a business in Mexico, largely operated by transnational gang networks involved in smuggling and trafficking in persons and drugs with collaboration of the local, municipal, state and federal authorities.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants The kidnapping of 10,000 Central American migrants in Mexico over the course of six-months resulted in roughly $2 million profit for their captors.
National Commission for Human Rights, Mexico The United States vastly expanded the arms and training it provided to Mexican police and military in 2008 with the passage of the Mérida Initiative. The four strategic areas of the Merida Initiative are:
• Disrupt Capacity of Organized Crime to Operate
• Institutionalize Capacity to Sustain Rule of Law
• Create a 21st Century Border Structure
• Build Strong and Resilient Communities The United States Congress has appropriated $1.6 billion since the Merida Initiative began.
Since 2007, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has received 5000 reports of human rights abuses. Documented human rights violations since 2009 include disappearances, torture, rape, harassment, threats and other violations committed by the Mexican police and military. Many of these abuses are directed against migrants.
In a 2010 report on migrants in Mexico, Amnesty International said that “federal and state authorities have consistently failed to investigate abuses against migrants promptly and effectively”.
It is estimated that 90% of weapons used by drug cartels come from the U.S. The Mesoamerican Migrant Movement states that the Mexican government’s position is to “push the blame onto organized crime, despite numerous charges of [government] complicity, be it direct or by omission.” For example, a 2006 study of 90 women migrants in a Mexican detention center found that of the 90, 23 women reported suffering sexual abuse. Of those who were assaulted, 13 reported that the perpetrator was a state official. Though some laws have been passed to try to weed out bad police officers and reduce incentives for extortion, Amnesty International has found that unlawful immigration checks are still widespread and often involve extortion, physical and sexual violence. A Nicaraguan journalist from El Nuevo Diario who accompanied the caravan reported that many migrants they met along the way told stories of local authorities involved in crimes against migrants.
In one of the most horrific stories, a young man who had been kidnapped by the Zetas escaped and was turned back over to his captors by the police. The gang beat him in retaliation and in front of the other captives, cut off his hands with a machete as an example. María Eugenia Barrera Rocha believes that her daughter was a victim of human trafficking. Since she disappeared 9 years ago, Maria Eugenia has been on a wild goose chase through Central America, filing numerous missing person reports, and always returning empty handed. She has encountered many dangers along her search, including being followed in Nicaragua. She is thankful to finally be accompanied in her travels, now on her second caravan through Mexico. On both caravans she had been told by various sources that they have seen her daughter in Tapachula, but that she is always accompanied by a man.
During one of the press conferences during the caravan this year, she saw the very same man who had followed her in Nicaragua, posing as a journalist and taking photos.
"More people said that they have seen her. This affirms that my daughter is alive...that there is hope that one day I will find her." When Maria Eugenia's daughter went missing, her twin daughters were less than a year old. Maria Eugenia has been caring for them since. This November they turned ten. This photo was taken on their 10th birthday. Participating Organizations:
Jesuit Migrant Services, Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, Doctors International, Pastoral of Human Mobility , University Rafael Landivar, The Institute of Research and Policy Management, as well as the Network of Migrants and Families of the Disappeared. Also supported by the Danish Association for Development, the Immigration Institutes of the governments, Tlaxcala and Tamaulipas, and Mexico City, universities, activists and defenders of migrants' rights, Amnesty International and the Mexican National Human Rights Commission, among others. Map courtesy of El Nuevo Diario. Translated by Witness for Peace. Photo courtesy of EFE. Photo courtesy of Michelle Frankfurter. (Former Witness for Peace International Team Member). According to the American Bar Association, "Limited opportunities to migrate safely to and through Mexico, and to the U.S., renders migrants more vulnerable to trafficking situations."
Martha recounted, "I heard one migrant talking about how he had worked for the Zetas...he carries this weight on his conscience but he did it for love of his family, so that they wouldn't hurt them." Photo by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team Photo by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team Photo by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team When Witness for Peace met with Martha Blandón García in her home after returning from the caravan, she said that even within the migrant shelters there are people working for the gangs. Those who work for the gangs befriend other migrants and collect information on their families that the gang can use for extortion. Photo by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team U.S.-lead militarization in Mexico fuels the extreme violence that migrants face.
Before the Zetas gained their reputation as one of the most violent gangs in Mexico and Central America, many members were part of an elite division of the Mexican army trained in the 90's by United States Special Forces. "The war against drug trafficking hasn't worked and it has turned migrants into merchandise for organized crime."
-Martha Sanchez Soler, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement "The motive for the humanitarian caravan is not only to help mothers and fathers to find their lost children, but also calls on the sending and receiving countries to apply protective measures and respect the human rights of migrants."
-Martha Sánchez Soler, Coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, Mexico. Stand with the families of the "Liberating Hope Caravan" and demand a change to U.S. policies that contribute to the vulnerability of migrants.
Stay up to date with Witness for Peace action alerts at WitnessforPeace.org Bibliography
Michelle Frankfurter Photos: "Destino" http://www.michellefrankfurterphotos.com/#a=0&at=0&mi=2&pt=1&pi=10000&s=0&p=0
“Human Trafficking Assessment Tool for Mexico.” March, 2009. http://apps.americanbar.org/rol/publications/mexico_2009_htat_en.pdf “Invisible
Victims: Migrants on the Move in Mexico.” 2011. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR41/014/2010/en/8459f0ac-03ce-4302-8bd2-3305bdae9cde/amr410142010eng.pdf
Lara, Rafael. Caravana de Madres, Cara a Cara con la Muerte.” November, 14th 2012 http://www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/especiales/269385-caravana-de-madres-cara-a-cara-muerte
Melimopoulos, Elizabeth. “Migrant Mothers Search for their Lost Sons.” October, 26th 2012.www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/10/20121024103223936928.html
“Mexico Drug War: Facts About 'Los Zetas' Drug Cartel.” May, 25th 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/02/mexico-drug-war-facts-abo_n_830345.html#s247945&title=Membership
Novell, Andy F.. “El negocio de la migración centroamericana.” January, 24th 2011/http://www.elarsenal.net/2011/01/24/el-negocio-de-la-migracion-centroamericana/
Robles, Alexander. “As Central Americans tour Mexico, a Honduran woman is reunited with her son after nine years.” November, 20th 2012. http://www.groundreport.com/Politics/Search-for-Missing-Children-in-Mexico/2949497
Robles, Alexander. “Mothers search Mexico for Missing Children.” November, 20th 2011. http://iwpr.net/report-news/mothers-search-mexico-missing-children
Torres Solórzano, Carla. “Caravana a México brinda resultados.” November, 9th 2012. http://www.laprensa.com.ni/2012/11/09/ambito/123235-caravana-a-mexico-brinda Photo by: CNN Mexico Photo by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team Photo by: Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team The majority of the family members returned home to Nicaragua with a new found understanding of the challenges their family members confronted on their journey.
“We have been going from shelter to shelter and we see the young men who are traveling, and I see my son in them. I think that my son passed through these same places. Knowing how the route is, it makes me feel heavy-hearted and very sad,” Narcicia Socorro Gómez, one of the Nicaraguan mothers said to the Upside Down World .
The mothers maintain hope, however, after witnessing a handful of women who successfully found their family members. 71 year-old María Teodora Ñaméndez, or “Doña Teo" as the other mothers call her, found her son on the caravan after 31 years without contact.
Her son left Nicaragua at age 17 and, after failing to reach the United States, turned to alcohol.
He tried to write his family, but the letters were returned. Doña Teo's other children assumed that their brother had died, but she never gave up hope. Having never heard back from his family, Teo's son had likewise assumed that his mother had passed. He has now recovered from his addiction and is married and a father of three.
When Witness for Peace visited Doña Teo she had just gotten off the phone with her son, and said that he is working hard to save enough to get a passport and visit. Martha was reunited with her twin sister, Blanca, seeing her for the first time in twenty-seven years. After the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictator in 1979, the U.S. helped form a counter-revolutionary army. Blanca fled to avoid the violence.
Martha went on the caravan at the behest of her mother who is in very bad health and dreams of seeing her daughter again before she passes.
Blanca is now a mother and grandmother, and though she struggles daily to get by in Mexico, hopes one day to be able visit home. Photo courtesy of Michelle Frankfurter. Photo courtesy of Michelle Frankfurter.