Central American Mothers Build Bridges of Hope

For the tenth time, Central American mothers and other relatives of disappeared migrants are undertaking an emotional Mexican journey.

Setting off from Mexico’s southern border on November 20, the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution and a day of national protest in Mexico for the missing students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college, a new caravan dubbed “Bridges of Hope” has so far visited several Mexican states in another effort at finding long missing loved ones alive.

Accompanied by representatives of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission and police escorts, the caravan consists of 43 people from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In an act of solidarity, the contingent’s membership reflects the number of students forcibly disappeared by police in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero last September.

“Each moment of the first half of the trip has been intense,” said the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement (MMM) in a report on the caravan. “At each stop, the mothers have been able to talk with many of the migrants that now cross Mexico headed to the northern border.”

Like previous caravans, the 10th Caravan has scored some dramatic successes. According to the MMM, a mother and son were reunited in the central state of Hidalgo after a separation of 17 years. In another emotion-charged encounter, Honduran siblings Leonila Guerra and Oswaldo Guerra embraced for the first time in 17 years after reuniting in the port city of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.

The Honduran man headed to Mexico in 1997, but was unable to contact his family until now because poverty did not even provide for a phone back home.  Guerra remained in Veracruz, where he found work in the construction sector. A friend later contacted the MMM about Guerra’s plight and the rest is history.

As on previous journeys, caravan participants have heard first-hand accounts from migrants about the life-threatening dangers they face while crossing Mexico en route to the United States, including a story from a group of young Central Americans about an attempted kidnapping of their group only hours before meeting with the mothers.

Even as the caravan winds through Mexico, reports of mass kidnappings of migrants, Mexicans and Central Americans alike, trickle into the news. Last week alone, Mexican federal authorities freed 12 Hondurans, including a woman and two minor males, from captivity in the state of Tabasco. In Tijuana, a federal operation resulted in the freeing of nine Mexican nationals, including four women and five men, three of whom were minors. A 41-year-old suspect fingered by the freed captives, Obed Josue Vera Ortega, was detained and turned over to the federal attorney general’s office.

In the absence of official numbers, the MMM estimates between 70,000 and 150,000 Central Americans have either vanished or perished in Mexico since 2006, as part of an “escalating” human tragedy.
Lucia Macario Perez, Guatemalan member of the 10th Caravan, said many indigenous people in her country are hard-pressed to investigate the fates of missing relatives because of their inability to speak Spanish or fears of making formal complaints.

In a report on the caravan’s progress, the MMM contended that violence against migrants in Mexico, which typically occurs with official collusion of some sort, has turned the country into a “gigantic secret grave for those who flee in a migration forced by extreme structural violence-economic, political and social…”

The transnational migrant advocacy group also noted the verdict of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) a successor of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal, which delivered its final sentence on human rights violations in Mexico last month following a massive, three-year investigation.

“If there is a territory in Mexico where rights have been abolished in Mexico it is that territory along the routes of migration that cross the country from South to North,” the MMM stated, quoting the PPT.

Planned to run through December 7, the 10th Caravan is making its way across Mexico with the assistance of scores of Mexican human rights organizations, migrant shelters and sympathetic individuals.
For the first time, the caravan is being held in conjunction with a sister campaign that began on the Italian island of Lampedusa November 23, in a bid to call attention to the plight of North African and other migrants fleeing to Europe via the deadly waters of the Mediterranean.

Like the U.S.-Mexico border, thousands are estimated to have died attempting to make the crossing. “Globalization was about problems, not rights,” said Nino Cuaresina, coordinator of the Italian caravan that will conclude in Turin later this week. “Our struggle is the same and we have to do it together.”

On this note, Pope Francis spoke out on the Lampedusa tragedy.  In his first address to the European Parliament last week, the pontiff appealed on European leaders to take measures so the Mediterranean is not turned into a “vast cemetery.”

Activists with the Central American caravan likewise urged tangible actions from Mexican officials to locate disappeared persons and safeguard the integrity of migrants.

“We don’t say we do not want to be heard,” said Anita Celaya, Salvadoran mother. “But don’t lie to us, don’t make fun of the pain of the mothers.”

The relatives also criticized Mexico’s Southern Border program, a government strategy designed to control migratory flows implemented earlier this year. Echoing criticisms by migrant advocates of similar crackdowns by Washington on the U.S.-Mexico border, caravan activists contended that the choking off of traditional travel routes in the south of Mexico is funneling migrants into more dangerous crossings and into the clutches of human traffickers.

Additional sources: La Jornada, November 26 and 29, 2014. Articles by Gustavo Castillo and Fabiola Martinez. El Sol de Tijuana/OEM, November 26 and 28, 2014. Cimacnoticias.com, November 24, 2014. Article by Anayeli Garcia Martinez.

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