Central American Migrants Kidnapped In Tamaulipas

A cross memorial for migrants who have lost their lives stands by the Rio Grande. (Wikimedia Commons)

A cross memorial for migrants who have lost their lives stands by the Rio Grande. (Wikimedia Commons)

While traveling by bus through the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, 19 men were kidnapped at gunpoint on March 10. According to Mexico Daily News, the Mexican government suspects the men to be Central American migrants attempting to reach the U.S. border. Central American migrants were kidnapped on the same highway in the 2010 San Fernando massacre. According to the Associated Press, the Mexican federal government launched a formal search into the incident.

Tamaulipas has long been rife with violence targeting migrants traveling through the state. Much of the violence is the result of an active conflict between the Los Zetas cartel and the Gulf Cartel, which frequently kidnap travelers to integrate into their ranks. In 2010, 72 migrants – mostly of Central American origin – were shot point-blank at an abandoned ranch in the municipality of San Fernando, beaten in a fashion El País found comparable to that perpetrated by ISIS fighters. A year later in the same municipality, the Mexican Attorney General accused the local police forces of being involved in the massacre of 193 Central American migrants found in mass graves. Because of this pervasive violence, migrants have been wary of traveling through Tamaulipas, despite the state’s status as the shortest route to the U.S.

According to reports by La Jornada, the men were among a group of 41 passengers traveling to Reynosa aboard a bus. Secretary of Public Security Alfonso Durazo Montaño stated that after blocking the road with four vehicles, the abductors boarded the bus with a list of the names of the passengers. After the driver reached Reynosa, he reported the incident, and the federal police conducted a sweep of the highway, but were unable to find the perpetrators. Durazo also contradicted Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca, saying that at no point did the Federal Police escort the bus.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador released a statement on March 12, stating the government suspected the victims to be of Central American origin, but was hesitant to name the incident a kidnapping. “We are investigating for sure... [but] there is a theory... this is a method to get into the United States,” President Obrador said, noting the commonplace practice of “disappearing” to gain easier access across the border. The following day, a combination of federal police, army, and Tamaulipas state police forces began a formal search for the migrants, which has been informally named “Operation to Find Them Alive.”

Late on March 13, the investigative forces saved 34 migrants in Altamira, Tamaulipas. However, the Mexican government has stated that the 19 men from the bus incident were not among them. In reference to the still missing individuals, Secretary Durazo has stated that while the search will continue, the Ministry of Public Safety had been weighing the possibility of the incident being part of an elaborate migrant smuggling scheme as much as possible cartel violence, reiterating AMLO’s position. According to El Sol de Mexico though, AMLO is most worried about preventing “any repetition of the 2010 and 2011 massacres.”