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The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail

The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail

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Published by PRI's The World
English excerpt of the novel by Óscar Martínez.
English excerpt of the novel by Óscar Martínez.

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Published by: PRI's The World on Mar 27, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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04/17/2014

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1 On the Road: Oaxaca 
There are those who migrate to
 El
 Norte because of poverty. There are
those who migrate to reunite with family members. And there are
those
 ,
like the Alfaro
brothers
 ,
 
who don
’ 
t migrate. They flee. Recentl 
 y
 ,
 
c
lose to the
brothers’ 
 home in a small Salvadoran
cit 
 y
 ,
 
bodies started
hitting
the streets. The bodies fell closer and closer to the
brothers’ 
 home.
 And
then one day the brothers received the threat. The
 story that follows is
the escape of
 A
uner 
 ,
 
 Pitbull, and
 El
Chele
 ,
 
three migrants who never wanted to come to the United
States.
 
“I’m
 
unning,”
 Auner says,
his
head ducked down,
not
meeting my eyes,
“so
 
I
don
t
 
get
illed.”
 
The first time
I
asked him, though, he told me he was
migrating
to try
his luck.
He
said
he
was only looking
for a
 better life,
una
vida mejor 
, which
is a
common saying
on the
migrant trails.
But
here in southern Mexico, now that Auner and
I
are alone, with
the
train tracks next to us and a cigarette resting between his lips,
now that
we
 
re apart from his two younger brothers who
are playing
cards
in the
migrant shelter 
s common room,
he
admits
that the
 better word
to
describe his journey is not migration, but
escape. 
And will you come
 back?”
 
I
ask
him. 
“N
o
,”
 he says, still looking
at
the ground.
“Ne
ver 
.”
“So
 you
re giving up your
countr 
y?”
 
Y
eah.”
 
You
ll never
retur 
n?”
 
“No
 
 
Only if anything happens
to
my wife
or daughter 
.”
 
 
 
2 THE BEAST 
And then you
ll come
 back?”
Just
to
kill
them.”
 
Just
to
kill
w
ho?”
 
“I
 
don
t
 
even
know
.”
 
Auner knows nothing
of
the men he runs from. Back home,
he
left behind a slew of unsolved murders. Now, blindly, he runs
and
hides. He feels he has no time
to
reflect. No time
to
stop and
think
what connection he and his brothers might have with those
 bodies
on the
streets. 
Auner left
El
Salvador, along with
his
wife
and
tw
o-y
ear-old
daughter, two months ago. Since then
he
 
s
guided his
two brothers with patience and caution. At only twenty years old, he tries hard
to
keep his fear in check so as not
to
make
a
false step. He
doesn
t
want
to
fall into
the
hands
of
migration authorities, doesn
t
 
want
to
get deported and sent back
to El
Salvador, which would mean
starting again from scratch. Because
no
matter what they
re
 
 put
through
or
how long it takes, they must escape, he says,
they must
get north. To El Norte.
“Get
 
 pushed back
a
little, okay
,”
 
A
uner
says,
“it
 
might happen, but
we
 
ll only use
it to
gain
momentum.”
Without
a
word, Auner gets
up,
ending
our
conversation.
W
e
walk down
the
dusty sidewalk, back toward
the
migrant shelter 
.
W
e
 
re in the small city
of
Ixtepec, in the state
of
Oaxaca, the
fir 
st
stepping-stone
of my
 journey with them.
At the
shelter,
a
 place
made
up of
 palm-roof huts
and
half-built laundry rooms,
A
uner huddles
next to El Chele and
Pitbull,
his
younger brothers. El Chele has a boyish face, light skin, and a head of curly hair.
Pitbull
has
the
hardened face
of an
ex-con
and the
calloused hands
of
a
 
laborer. Auner is the quiet
one. A
humid heat wraps around
us, so
thick
I
feel
I
could push
it
away. The brothers are talking about the next step in their
escape.
There
 
s
a
decision
that
needs
to be
made:
stay on the train like
stowaways,
or
take the buses through indigenous mountain
towns
with the hope that they can avoid
checkpoints. 
A journey through the mountains would take them through
the
thick green Oaxaca jungle, well
off the
migrant
train
trails.
But 
 
 
On the Road: Oaxaca
3 
it
 
s
a route
studded
with
checkpoints
and
migration authorities
,
and usually only taken with the help
of a
guide,
or
coyote.
Auner
first heard
of the trail
thanks
to
Alejandro Solalinde,
the priest who
founded
and runs this
migrant shelter. Solalinde
is a man
who understands the value in giving an extra option, even one
so
dangerous,
to
those who
flee. In
contrast,
the
voyage
 by train would have Auner and his
 brothers clinging
like ticks onto its roof struts for at least six
hours
en
route
to
Medias Aguas, Veracruz,
the
home
turf of Los
Zetas. They
’d
 then have
to
hide
in
ditches
on
the outskirts
of the
town, waiting for the next train, ready at any moment to sprint
for
their
lives. The
infamous
gang
known
as Los
Zetas was formed
in
1999
 by the
narco-trafficker
Osiel
Cárdenas Guillén, founder
of the
 powerful
Gulf
Cartel, arrested
in
2003,
and a US
 prisoner
since 
2007. Cárdenas originally created Los Zetas
to
act as his
organi-
zation
s
 
armed wing, composed
of
thirty-one elite Mexican
army
deserters
 — 
some
of
whom
had
trained
at the
US-led School
of the
Americas
 — 
 but
the group
expanded
and
evolved,
 becom- ing
increasingly, violently autonomous.
By
2001,
the group had
already added to its brutal money-making repertoire the mass
kid-
nappings of
undocumented
 
migrants for 
 r 
ansom
 
money.
By
 
2007
 it
had broken away
to
form an independent cartel.
In
2009 the
Drug
Enforcement Administration
(DEA) called the Zetas,
simpl
y
,
“Mexico’
s most organized and dangerous group
of assassins
.”
 The answer to the Alfaro
 brother 
s’
question might seem
obvious
to
someone
not
familiar
with the rules of the
migrant
trail. Mexican cartel violence has become increasingly
notorious
through media portrayal, Mexican and US government
denuncia
-
tions, and
the
cartels’
 own use
of a
gallows-style display
of their
mutilated murder victims. But
the
risks
of
traveling through
the
mountains,
so as to avoid Los
Zetas,
aren
t
 
inconsiderable.
Of
every
ten
migrants
from
Central America, six
are
a
 pprehended
and mugged by Mexican migration authorities
 — 
a potential
catas-
trophe for these guys who pocket, as
if
they were jewels,
the
$50
 

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