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In Mexico, cartels recruit vulnerable migrants

Posted on
July 17, 2013

HUEHUETOCA, Mexico (AFP) –  Honduran  migrant Samuel Alberto Centeno Vazquez was approached to work for the Zetas drug  cartel as he made his way along the railways that lead to Mexico’s border with  the United States.

The members of the criminal gang carried pistols and made promises of a  $1,000 monthly salary, girls and drugs.

“They wanted us to work with them, if you know what I mean,” said Centeno  Vazquez, 19, who spoke to AFP outside a migrant shelter in Huehuetoca in the  state of Mexico, which borders Mexico City.

He was offered the money to help the Zetas in their criminal activities,  which include murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion.

Mexico’s drug cartels are increasingly recruiting undocumented Central  American migrants to join their ranks, non-governmental groups say.


An assault rifle, semiautomatic pistols, ammo and other stuff  seized in the arrest of ten alleged members of the drug cartel “Los Zetas”, are  presented to the press in Monterrey, Mexico, on February 9, 2012. Honduran  migrant Samuel Alberto Centeno Vazquez was approached to work for the Zetas drug  cartel as he made his way along the railways that lead to Mexico’s border with  the United States


Although the number of Mexicans making the journey north to the United States  is at a low, Central Americans are streaming across Mexico from troubled  countries like Honduras in search of a better life.

An estimated 200,000 crossed into Mexico illegally last year, the interior  ministry says. Mostly poor and in desperate need of work, many of them find such  job offers hard to resist.

“We said no but others have gone with them,” said Centeno Vazquez.

For years, Central American migrants have been the victims of kidnapping,  murder and extortion at the hands of Mexico’s corrupt authorities and criminal  groups.

The Zetas are one of Mexico’s most violent criminal gangs and control  significant swathes of territory, though their future is at a crossroads after  their leader, Miguel Angel Trevino, was arrested on Monday.

Other migrants in the shelter in Mexico state wished to remain anonymous but  spoke to AFP about similar experiences.

The shelter, little more than an improvised camp, was pushed far out of the  small town of Huehuetoca and sits along the railway lines that carry the cargo  trains that the migrants jump onto, risking life and limb.

One man from Honduras said: “Sometimes people get recruited because they  don’t have money. Sometimes the Zetas infiltrate these shelters. And others  don’t have any other choice – they’re not going to die of hunger.”

Non-profits who work with migrants say that many who are trying to escape  poverty back home struggle to pay the tax that drug gangs now charge them to sit  atop the cargo trains that carry them to the border.

Migrants say that gangs are currently charging migrants around $100 each to  ride the trains. Smugglers can charge thousands of dollars to take Central  Americans all the way to the US border.

“People don’t have the money to pay for the journey, so recruitment is  becoming another way of paying these groups. In a lot of cases, either you get  recruited or they kill you or a member of your family,” said Nancy Perez,  director of the non-profit Sin Fronteras.

In August 2010, 72 undocumented migrants were killed in the state of  Tamaulipas, and the Zetas are accused of slaughtering them.

The sole survivor of the massacre, a migrant from Ecuador, said the group was  kidnapped and then gunned down by its captors after the migrants were unable to  pay the money the gang demanded, and refused to work for them.

There have been reports in the Mexican media of Central Americans being  arrested as part of drug or human trafficking rings. But the federal  prosecutor’s office could not provide figures on how many Central Americans are  currently in Mexican prisons on drug or human trafficking charges.

The recruitment of migrants into organized crime in Mexico is just one of the  latest trends in the country’s ongoing drug war.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since 2006,  when then president Felipe Calderon deployed troops against the country’s drug  cartels.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has vowed to curb violence and form a new police  force to tackle it, but the killing spree has continued since he took office in  December.





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Spreading the word about the dangers of methamphetamine.

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