ROSARIO, Argentina – Ten years ago, 72 migrants “on a journey of hope” – as Pope Francis described it – were massacred by the Los Zetas cartel in San Fernando, Mexico. Although there are 15 people detained for the crime, no one has been convicted.
The migrants were traveling from several Latin American countries and were trying to reach the United States. In the state of Tamaulipas, in north-eastern Mexico, they were stopped by the drug traffickers, who murdered them after they refused to be used as drug mules.
They were 90 miles away from Brownsville, Texas.
Tamaulipas, which provides the quickest route from Central America to the United States, is infamous for being the battle ground between two notorious criminal gangs, Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.
After the end of his Sunday Angelus prayer, Pope Francis marked the anniversary, saying that the migrants murdered “were people from various countries looking for a better life. The Lord will hold us to account for all of the migrants who’ve fallen on their journey of Hope.”
On Monday – the anniversary of the massacre – Francis sent out a in which he reiterated the idea of being held accountable for the death of migrants, but also expressing “my solidarity with the families of the victims who today are still asking for truth and justice.”
Although Francis is the most recognizable figured who has spoken out about the massacre in recent days, he’s far from being the only one. For instance, the Archbishop of San Salvador, capital of El Salvador, called for justice in the case.
“To date, ten years have passed and that dreadful crime, like many others committed against our migrant brothers, continues to go unpunished,” said Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas.
Escobar Alas said that “we demand that the corresponding authorities provide justice to the victims and we raise our voices to demand due respect for human rights for all our migrant brothers.”
Fourteen of the migrants killed were from El Salvador. The others came from Brazil (3), Ecuador (5), Honduras (24), Guatemala (13) and one of them was a citizen of India. Of those killed, 58 were men, 14 women.
The Mexican bishops conference released its own statement on Sunday, signed by Bishop José Guadalupe Torres Campos of Ciudad Juarez and head of the migrants section of the conference.
“Migrants of different nationalities, who were looking for a better life, were locked in an abandoned bodega,” the statement says. “There, they were shot at because they refused to work for criminals, transporting in their bags drugs headed towards the United States.”
The statement notes that one of the migrants, Freddy Lala from Ecuador, survived the massacre and walked 10 miles until he arrived at station of the Mexican marine corps, where he informed them about the killing.
“This fact and so many other cases of kidnaping, extortion and murder of so many migrants before and after, and which continues to be a reality today, uncovers the fragility of the Mexican State in confronting the proliferation of criminal groups that have permeated the entire national territory,” Torres Campos said
The bishop also said that the “vulnerability of the entire [Mexican] population to organized crime has grown, but especially that of migrants who easily fall into the hands of illegal groups.”
He said the massacre of the 72 migrants in San Fernando demands more just and accessible migration policies from the government, adding such policies would prevent migrants from living in hiding and become easy prey for organized crime.
“Migration policies that seek to stop and repress migration only favor criminal groups that make migrants an object of business that generates large sums of money,” Torres Campos wrote in a statement published in the website of the Mexican bishops, as well as in the weekly paper of the Archdiocese of Mexico City.
“As a Church, we are saddened by the situation that many migrant brothers and sisters are going through and we sympathize with the families of these 72 and all migrants who have been victims of organized crime in our country and who today cry out for justice and truth,” he wrote, before closing the statement by asking for Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the America, “who suffered when she saw her own son martyred” to bring comfort and protect migrants as they search for a better life.
A year after the San Fernando Massacre, local authorities exhumed more than 40 mass graves, finding at least 193 bodies.
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