An in-person report
by Francesca Gargallo Celentani
Editor’s Note: Below are excerpts from an in-person report from an Accompaniment Brigade which joined the Migrant Caravan crossing southern Mexico on its way to Mexico City. Translated from the original Spanish as published in Desinformemonos. https://desinformemonos.org/instantaeas-de-un-acompanamiento-a-la-caravana-migrante/ .
It was 12:20 PM on Nov. 12 when the Accompaniment Brigade met the Migrant Caravan on the Trans-isthmic Highway. The sun was at full blast and the hot asphalt burned the soles of people’s feet through their sandals. Women and children were totally exhausted and asked for water, just water. A woman with an orange distributed it section by section to her children, husband and close companions. The containers of water were empty in the middle of that suffocating plain where even the winds are hot. The Brigade’s truck drove to the town of Niltepec to buy bags of food and water to distribute to desperate people. People also asked for shoes because their flip flops were totally torn and for caps to cover their heads from the sun that burned their skin.
TWO NATIONAL GUARD BLOCKADES IN ONE DAY
Since the caravan left Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, the federal government considered destroying it and sent the National Guard, the Beta Group (the Military) and the National Migration Institute to use all means of deterrence, legal or illegal.
And where is the CNDH (National Human Rights Commission)? While the National Guard installed its second blockade of the day, 34 kilometers from La Ventosa, forcing families off long platform trucks that drivers had in solidarity let the marchers ride, some of the CNDH officials were locked in their cars. They had their windows closed, chatting and playing with their cell phones, and turning their backs on what was going on.
It seems as if the CNDH instructions were for inaction and omission in the face of the violation of the caravan participants’ right to free movement. They only got upset when the migrants yelled at them to mediate. Two hours of blockade by the National Guard passed and the strong freezing winds began. The winds in that region are capable of overturning cars and trailers.
The push and pull of negotiations between the National Guard and the migrants actually took place between journalists, photographers, Medios Libres (Free Media) and the Accompaniment Brigade. The Guard claimed the transfer of people in trucks and trailers is illegal and they will only clear the way if the migrants walk. Those in the caravan accused the National Guard and Grupo Beta of illegally obstructing the right of transit. Officials felt the pressure but they walked away, talked on the phone and came back with the same arguments. They threatened to punish the truck drivers for human trafficking and took photos of their license plates.
The families tried to avoid violence. The Guard formed a wall on the road of about 120 elements. There was testimony that in the second row they had weapons. They tried to surround the Caravan, but made the mistake of throwing the first stone. A group of angry young migrants responded. The families did not want violence and made efforts to contain it as they knew that it can be the pretext that the National Guard would use to dissolve the caravan.
Gilberto Bosques Saldívar Accompaniment Brigade members, Cristobal Sánchez and Ana Enamorado, were concerned about a violent response and established a dialogue with the authorities. Ana recalled, “We were going to look for them (the representatives of Migration and the immediate head of the National Guard). We didn’t realize that they had surrounded us.” She said to the authorities: “We must find a solution. Let the caravan pass. You know you are violating their right to free movement. People are in poor health, their feet are sore, let them advance.” The head of the National Guard responded that this cannot be allowed. Then there were outbreaks of violence a few meters off the road.
The zone chief of the National Guard asked for a few minutes to talk on the phone. Ana talked to the migrants who were ready to respond to the aggression and asked them to lower their sticks and get rid of the stones so as not to provoke the Guards. The mostly-young migrants agreed, but insisted that the members of the Guard who caused the confrontation must leave, and the road be opened.
The zone chief explained that there is already an order for the migrant caravan to continue to Matías Romero. Once the people got back on the trucks, however, the Guard failed to take them to their destination and left them five kilometers from Matías Romero. In the middle of the cold night the people walked for two hours to reach the open-air Auditorium. There they organized themselves to spend the night.
Some looked for cardboard to ward off the cold; others took to the streets to find firewood so as to prepare coffee, while still others made long lines where doctors set up their office on wheels. The Brigade doctors, Guillermo Selvas and Adolfo Martínez, confirmed that the caravan members were on the verge of collapse: most had sore feet, some had stomach infections, skin burns, dehydration, diarrhea or acute and chronic bronchitis.
Although both Migration and CNDH had been observing the caravan, they will only attend to health problems if those who are ill surrender to the Migration authorities and abandon the caravan. “They want us to fail, but they will not succeed,” said the migrants.
MEXICO’S PROUD PAST NOW LONG GONE
There was a time when Mexico was proud of its diplomatic policy and of offering refuge for migrants in danger of death. The Lázaro Cárdenas government (1930s) risked all its prestige and showed its audacity to respond to the humanitarian crisis after the Spanish Civil War and World War II. There was a time when the foreign minister and diplomat Don Gilberto Bosques Saldívar used all his expertise, intelligence and occasional magic to save thousands of people fleeing war and violence in Europe. Thousands arrived in Mexico and found shelter, food, and a future. This policy was maintained in the bloody years of the military dictatorships. Argentines, Uruguayans, Chileans, Paraguayans arrived here. We were proud of the clear response from the Mexican government. In the 1980s our country gave refuge in Chiapas and Campeche to thousands of Salvadoran and Guatemalan families when they were expelled from their countries whose governments waged bloody battles against guerrilla movements of national liberation.
That time is over. Now Mexico and the U.S. see with the same eyes: migrants plot, manipulate and threaten. Their eyes are not on the lives and the reasons why each family migrates. Because their gaze is not on what people are suffering, they will not know their stories.
WHY WE HAD TO LEAVE
Names or nationality do not matter. What matters are the facts and the reasons why people left: “I came from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela. I left Brazil, Cuba, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Haiti. I fled because of insecurity, political violence, because they killed my father, my brother, because they raped and dismembered my sister, they killed my uncles and cousins, they raped my daughter and I denounced them. They beat my son. I left because of hunger, because there is no work. I left because there is no future here, there is nothing. I didn’t want to leave because I love my country, but I can’t take it anymore. That’s why I left.”
Entering a new country was not easy. The proud history of Mexico is behind us. The massive arrival of migrants is accompanied by extortion by La Migra, as the National Migration Institute is called in Tapachula. It has behind it a long list of complaints that pile up: “La Migra turned families over to the narco. INM officials charge thousands of pesos for delivering false documents. La Migra tortured, asked for money to let families pass, has places where they kidnap and torture us.”
Migrants make the same complaints about the National Guard. The structure is the same as the federal police and there is a long list of complaints: forced disappearance of migrants; murders and collaboration with drug trafficking; the old military chiefs are there and the chain of command is still intact.
Alejandro Encinas, head of the Undersecretariat for Human Rights of the Interior on whom the National Migration Institute depends, knows all about this because there have been multiple complaints, but he does not lift a finger.
FROM MATÍAS ROMERO TO ACAYUCAN, VERACRUZ
It was 10:00 AM of Nov. 14 and the families were desperate to move towards Veracruz. At 11:00 rumors circulated that there would be trucks for their move, but instead the National Guard began to stop all trailers and flatbed trucks 100 meters from the entrance of Matías Romero to stop families from using them to travel to Acayucan, Veracruz. It was then that people in the caravan reconsidered their destination: they would arrive first at Palomares.
After three hours of walking, the caravan stopped. Most sheltered in the shade trees on the side of the road, but several families were stationed in the middle of the road in order to ask for help from passing motorists. Many handed over coins, water, fruit or whatever they had.
At night, a boy came to the Brigade car. He was looking for a doctor for a big scrape and bruise on his leg which was beginning to swell. He spoke of an attempted kidnapping, saying that some men tried to get him and his three companions into a car, but they struggled and managed to get away.
On Monday, Nov. 15, the caravan left Palomares for Donaji, a small town in Oaxaca bordering Veracruz, where the children found games: slides and swings. Incredibly, they had the energy to play despite having walked about 17 miles.
Tuesday, Nov. 16, the caravan entered the Veracruz area, arriving at Jesús Carranza, a municipality that borders Oaxaca, at four in the afternoon. We had walked about 50 kilometers between Monday and Tuesday. The migrants were not well received in Veracruz. The governor and the state’s Director of Attention to the Migrants said that they would not allow the caravan to travel through Veracruz.
From Jesús Carranza to Acayucan, 70 long kilometers await the caravan and who knows how many blockades and attacks by the National Guard, the National Migration Institute and the Beta Group they will have to endure. While that is happening, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador assured all that no one, not one person in his government, has attacked people in the caravan, nor have they blocked their way.