November 5, 2015

The road of the Machetes

At the borderline between Chiapas and Oaxaca, some people started to notice that, immigrants are an easy source of income. A situation that started with simple muggings, has escalated to constant violence, including sexual abuse and attacks with machetes. This is another collateral damage of the Plan Frontera Sur (Southern Border Plan): Central Americans do not have to wait until they get to Veracruz or Tamaulipas to experience the horrors of traveling through Mexico.

Text by: Ximena Natera

Chahuites, Oaxaca.- Five immigrants arrive to the shelter after 6p.m. They are limping. The skin on their feet tore hours ago and the pus from the blisters has mixed with blood and mud to become scab. The salt on their sweat draws white patterns on their dirty and worn out T-shirts. The Itsmo´s sun has left first degree burns on their faces, shoulders and calves.

They walked for almost 16 hours, from Arriaga, Chiapas all the way to this shelter in Oaxaca. It is a road that runs for almost 39 kilometers under a flat and straight horizon. It takes less than 40 minutes in a car and about an hour in public transportation to cross it. Immigrants walk on the side of the road, trying not to lose sight of it, trying not to get lost themselves. Others try their luck following the train tracks that go to Ixtepec, a town 120kilometers farther than Chahuites. A more painful option. The burning asphalt and the soft and uneven ground of the cropping fields that end up numbing one´s calves, cannot be compared to the torture of walking on the old, splintered and fragile ties of the train track. The ballast is even worse, the stones are sharp and pointy, after a while, you feel thousands of burning needles in the sole of your feet on every step.

The biggest disadvantage about traveling on the train track, is that the 39 kilometers become 50, since it separates from the highway and towns and goes into the hills and wilderness where there is no “migra” nor immigration checkpoints; nevertheless, there isn’t food, water or anyone to help immigrants either. It is there, into the wilderness, where the people from the towns, who see the immigrants as a constant source of income, formed gangs to mug them.

Chahuites, just as Corazones, Tapantepec, Niltepec, La Venta, El Espinal and Hidalgo City had been, until recently, invisible cities for the immigrants who traveled on top of the train cars; a trip that took around 8 to 12 hours before arriving to Ixtepec, Oaxaca. The violence in this area started about 14 months ago, when the Mexican government designed a new strategy to “bulletproof” the southern border to the incoming immigrant flow from Central America on its way to Mexico and the United States. The strategy, Plan Frontera Sur Segura (Safe Southern Border Plan) –announced but nonexistent on paper- is divided in two parts: increasing the surveillance in all the area and getting the Central American immigrants off the train.

For the most vulnerable, those traveling on empty pockets, getting off the train means having to walk across even more hazardous paths.

The Attorney Special Office for Crimes Against Immigrants in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, investigates over 250 violent assault complaints in this area occurred since August 2014. The number of victims could go as high as 600, according to data from the Hermanos en el Camino shelter, although immigrants usually do not file complaints due to their lack of trust on the authorities.

Filing a complaint would enable them to acquire a humanitarian visa, which Mexican law grants to those who are victims of a crime while traveling through Mexico. However, that is a process that can take months.

This year, authorities arrested two alleged immigrant muggers. One of them was carrying a machete, a gun and belongings that, according to the authorities, had been taken from immigrants. The other one was identified by immigrants in the photos the Attorney´s Office takes of the people who travel through those lands, a practice that transgresses their right to be considered innocent.

The Central American men who arrived to the Chauites shelter –a shelter that just open this year- are now part of the statistics kept by the civil organizations that state that this region, between Chiapas and Oaxaca, holds a promise of violence against immigrants.

Reproduction is authorized as long as the author, the text and the following are clearly quoted “This article is part of the project En el Camino, produced by Red de Periodistas de a Pie with the support of Open Society Foundations. To find out more about this project visit:”

Ximena Natera


Soy aspirante a la buena imagen, a la buena crónica, a la buena historia, soy aspirante al buen periodismo. Las historias de horror, miedo e injusticia que vimos y escuchamos a lo largo del camino me dejaron un hoyo en el estómago, la única manera que encuentro para cerrarlo es compartir estas mismas historias una y otra vez, con la esperanza de que la indignación se propague y, como dice el periodista Oscar Martínez, contribuya a iluminar poco a poco las esquinas oscuras.