$ 13,000 for the promise to cross Mexico: this is how the tragedy of the 55 migrants who died in Chiapas was developed

The price to pay was very high, but so were the expectations. Celso Pacheco had to pawn the deed to his house to get the money. The deal he had made with the “coyote mafia” was for 100,000 quetzals (about $ 13,000) for the transfer from Guatemala City to Houston, Texas. There he would look for a way to recover the investment and help his wife, who was waiting at home with their three children. The tragedy of Chiapas, in southern Mexico, this week shattered his dream and that of 150 other migrants who gambled everything they had for the opportunity to reach the United States. Now he has lost everything, even the desire to reach the northern country. “The important thing is to be alive,” says Pacheco, one of the survivors of the accident that left 55 dead and 107 injured on Thursday.

Pacheco, 33, left his country on Tuesday. In the afternoon he had already crossed into Mexico. He did it on foot through Gracias a Dios, a tiny town besieged by human trafficking and one of the most dangerous points on that border. He was traveling alone and along the way he made friends with three other migrants. In a group it was easier to navigate the pitfalls of a very hostile route for travelers. “We shared what we bought because we did not carry so much money,” says the Guatemalan from the corridors of a small Red Cross clinic in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of the State of Chiapas, where he was hospitalized after the accident. “We were laughing, joking on the way,” he recalls.

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The group grew larger. Some came from the poorest areas of Guatemala, others from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Ecuador and even a Mexican person. They spent Wednesday night in several safe houses in San Cristóbal de las Casas, 150 kilometers from the border. At eight o’clock in the morning on Thursday they picked them up in small trucks to take them to a stop half an hour outside the city, where they were given a meal for the whole day. Around one in the afternoon, six coyotes who were driving the whole group put them in the truck of the tragedy. The double-trailer Kenworth that Pacheco got on with his three friends wasn’t the only one. “There were two trailers and each had 150 people. With ours, what had to happen happened, and the other must have already arrived in Puebla, ”he says. About that second the authorities have not said anything.

Migrant truck trips have increased in response to the militarization of the border and roads in Mexico. The strategy of the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the year with the most arrests of migrants in the last two decades has been to deploy military belts to curb the massive northward currents. A group of migrants explained to this newspaper that to the persecution on the routes, a federal order has been added to the bus companies not to sell tickets to those in irregular conditions. Every time they go to a window to buy a ticket to another city, they ask for their identification, and with it they decide whether to sell them or not. “They force you to bribe to move forward, and that’s if you have money,” says Melvin Zúñiga, a 27-year-old from Honduras.

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The Kenworth crossing was planned to last about 15 hours. The stopover was Puebla, 700 kilometers away, where they were to be hidden in some warehouses. A little over two hours had passed when the trailer got out of control. The driver took at a hundred kilometers per hour a sharp curve on a highway near Chiapa de Corzo, on the outskirts of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. The speed limit is 80, as it is a residential area next to the Sumidero Canyon – a very deep cliff that crosses the State. There, the vehicle overturned and collided first with a utility pole and then with the base of a pedestrian bridge. The trailer box exploded and was reduced to a mass of iron.

The Mexican Prosecutor’s Office said on Friday that the main hypothesis of the cause of the accident was speeding. Some migrants told this newspaper that they felt that the vehicle was going too fast, to the point that sitting on the floor of the box they were shaken from one side to the other. Rubén Emerson, another Guatemalan who survived, remembers that it was on his backpack. The truck had an opening in the roof for ventilation. The trailers had been drilled so the migrants could breathe. It was over 30 degrees and the overcrowding produced “a lot of human warmth,” he says. “There were a lot of us, because we filled the trailer and the trailer was big.”

They had been arranged in rows of six. Still they pushed each other with the movement of the vehicle. Emerson was lucky enough to come in the back of the box, like most of the survivors. The truck broke in two. On one side, the driver’s cabin was left, almost intact, which allowed him to get out alive and flee on foot. On the other was the trailer, whose front part suffered the greatest blow, which left it as if it were an accordion. The one behind suffered less, allowing many to survive the greatest migration tragedy in recent years in Mexico.

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Emerson was thrown off the impact. “Everything got very dark, it turned around and everyone was fired. I don’t even know how I got there, but I woke up on the other side of the street, ”he also recounted from the hospital. “I saw a light and I was able to react, I was upside down. Since he was coming with a cousin, I worried about him and started looking for him. I found him later, when they took out many bodies, he was lying there ”.

Elements of the National Institute of Migration and the National Guard carry out a review of transport trucks in search of migrants, at the exit of Tuxtla.
Elements of the National Institute of Migration and the National Guard carry out a review of transport trucks in search of migrants, at the exit of Tuxtla. Gladys serrano

The neighbors were the first witnesses of the Dantesque image of the wake of bodies scattered on the road. Jorge Gómez González has his house in front of the scene of the accident. He calls it the bridge of death because of the number of accidents that occur there. “It was a carnage, I can’t get over it,” says the man, who assures that he was standing at the door of his house and saw everything. He helped bring out a girl in her 25s who ended up dying on her own hands. Emanuel Hernández, another neighbor who helped the victims, says it was “a very difficult image to see.” “There was a cloud of dust and when it subsided, we started to see all the people lying in the street.” At the scene of the tragedy, 49 people died, the other six died in hospitals.

There were not enough ambulances in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. The doctor Jessica Aguilar López was on duty that afternoon at the Red Cross clinic. It was a normal day until the phone rang: the accident notice. “We were going to receive 10 patients because the unit is small and the number of beds is minimal. Yellow codes, green codes began to arrive and the hospitals couldn’t cope, ”he says. They were three intense hours in which they received 47 patients. The small health center was flooded with “screams, blood and pain.” The rooms and corridors were still covered with mats on Friday to attend to the migrants. “It was too gloomy to watch the way patients were arriving,” he adds.

The migrants appreciate the assistance of the neighbors, who gave them water and blankets until the authorities arrived. Help was not the only thing they received. As soon as the accident happened, a group came to steal what few belongings they had left while they were lying unconscious. “Other people took advantage of the situation, I had some money and they emptied my entire backpack,” says Pacheco.

The Guatemalan lost in the tragedy, in addition to his belongings, two of the three friends he had made. Or Miguel Yáñez Ortega, who had to recognize the lifeless body of his brother-in-law, with whom they had paid 150,000 quetzals (about $ 19,500) in the hope of achieving the worn-out American dream. Nobody wants to think about starting the trip north again for now. “This is a disappointment for my family,” says Pacheco, “but the impact left me traumatized, scared. I don’t think I can get on another truck. “

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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