Big Business for Mexican Cartels: Kidnapping Central American Migrants

Big Business for Mexican Cartels: Kidnapping Central American Migrants

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A year ago, Gabriel (whose name was changed to protect his identity) was kidnapped in the mountains of Tecate, Mexico while trying to cross the border into California. The kidnappers were young men who identified themselves as members of the Mexican criminal organization Los Zetas.

The experience of this 23-year-old is a clear example of how criminal organizations see migrants as a source of income or recruits for their army of assassins. And if the migrants can’t pay up, they kill them.

"These hills are strewn with the bodies of those who didn’t pay," said Gabriel, pointing to the mountains of Tecate.

In an interview with La Opinión, the young man from Guerrero, who is now under witness protection, said that according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, the kidnapping of migrants has become an everyday occurrence in some parts of the country.

"They put us in a circle on the hill and started to call our families," he said. "They shouted that they would kill us if they didn’t get paid. They said they were going to take five people out and shoot them because their families didn’t pay. We never saw them again."

The kidnapping of migrants, and their subsequent execution and burial in mass graves along the border, has been reported to Mexican authorities for years, but little or nothing has been done about it.

Security agencies in Tecate, Baja California, confirmed that they are investigating alleged mass graves where the bodies of dozens of undocumented immigrants could be buried.

Police reports stress that the hills of the area known as "El Ochito," along the highway to the town of Rosa de Castilla, is the “red-light district” of kidnapping, where massacres of undocumented immigrants have reportedly taken place.

Migrants are kidnapped in groups of 20 or 30 people, according to the victims’ statements in court.

The undocumented are monitored from their arrival at the Tijuana bus station, where groups of migrants, mostly from Central America, board buses to the town of Rosa de Castilla, a traditional illegal crossing point to the United States for migrants as well as drugs.

This is where they begin their three-day trek to the California hills. It’s also where the kidnappers lie in wait. The buses are ambushed by men with high-powered weapons, who lead the migrants through tunnels and into the mountains where they start making phone calls to collect their ransom.

When the families refuse to pay, the migrants are killed, according to survivors.

In his statement to the NHRC, Gabriel said he witnessed at least six undocumented immigrants get killed by the kidnappers, who identified themselves as members of Los Zetas.

The young man stayed there for more than 36 hours with high caliber guns pointed at his head while he and the other migrants were instructed to ask their families to pay $1,500, to be sent by Western Union to the town of Teloloapan in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

All the shipments were addressed to women’s names, he recalls.

U.S. federal authorities in San Diego are aware of the existence of mass graves.

The most recent report was on Aug. 23, when they found the remains of three people, presumed to be undocumented immigrants, who had been shot.

While investigating the disappearance of a migrant, the rescue group Desert Angels confirmed the existence of a so-called "graveyard of migrants" in the area known as El Hongo, less than 30 miles from the town of Tecate.

"All of them were shot execution-style, and we’re sure there are graves all along the border," said Rafael Hernandez, head of the San Diego-based rescue group.

"Drug traffickers have managed to increase their profit with the blood of these people who are only coming to seek a better life."