Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mexico massacre highlights horrors for migrants

The gruesome massacre of 72 presumed migrants in Mexico has underlined the horrific risks taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking to reach the United States each year.

Friday, August 27, 2010
By: AFP writers

MEXICO CITY, August 27, 2010 (AFP) - The gruesome massacre of 72 presumed migrants in Mexico has underlined the horrific risks taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking to reach the United States each year.

Drug gangs are a growing threat, particularly the Zetas, who are suspected of carrying out the killings in Tamaulipas, northeast Mexico, and accused in scores of kidnappings and extorsion cases, sometimes in collaboration with local police.

Around half a million clandestine migrants take on the arduous journey across Mexico each year, mostly from Central America, according to Mexico's Human Rights Commission.

Some 10,000 undocumented migrants were abducted in Mexico from September 2008 to February 2009, the commission reported last year.

Drug gangs are using "extortion and kidnapping of migrants as a means for financing and recruitment because they are struggling to get money and people," a statement from the presidency said.

It blamed the killings on a power struggle between the Gulf gang and its former allies the Zetas.

It attributed the cartels' problems to what it claimed was the success of a controversial government clampdown on organized crime, which has seen thousands of soldiers deployed but also a spike in violence, with more than 28,000 deaths in three and a half years.

Critics say the growing activities prove the power of the gangs.

Rights groups once again slammed the government for failing to protect migrants.

Amnesty International said in April that the persistent failure by the authorities to tackle abuses against migrants had made their journey through Mexico one of the most dangerous in the world.

The group warned the situation had escalated into a "human rights crisis" and said that migrants faced kidnapping, rape and murder -- sometimes with the aid of public officials.

The latest case "will turn into an emblem of the capacity or incapacity of Mexican officials to face up" to migrant abuses, Alberto Herrera, director of Amnesty International Mexico, told AFP on Wednesday.

A group of non-governmental organizations from Latin America and the United States on Thursday condemned the massacre and the "insensitivity" of the Mexican government.

"We are worried to see that human rights violations against migrants are far from diminishing, but continue to happen and increase," said a statement from dozens of groups working with migrants in Mexico's southern Chiapas state.

Migrants are increasingly kidnapped and forced to give details of their families in the United States or South America for ransom demands of up to 2,500 dollars, according to Amnesty.

An injured Ecuadoran man who appeared to be the sole survivor of the Tamaulipas massacre said the group had been kidnapped and killed by members of the Zetas for refusing to work for the cartel.

The US government has called the Zetas the most dangerous organized crime syndicate in Mexico.

The group emerged in the 1990s, formed of former elite forces who deserted the Mexican army, to provide security for the powerful Gulf gang leader, Osiel Cardenas.

After Cardenas was detained and then extradited to the United States in 2007, the Zetas broke off from the Gulf gang and boosted their ranks.

"The Zetas control various routes which allow them to move from Guatemala to the US border, crossing Mexico sometimes with the help of local police," said Raul Benitez, an investigator at Mexico's UNAM university.

Local authorities blame disputes between the Gulf gang and the Zetas for more than 1,000 killings in northeast Mexico this year.

Army patrols checked vehicles Thursday in the hunt for the perpetrators of the massacre, in an area where many locals no longer dare to travel.

Investigators meanwhile struggled to find letters or identity papers on the bodies of the victims, who were found tied up and dumped inside a warehouse.

Migrants from Ecuador, Honduras, El Salvador and Brazil were believed to be among them.

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