Mexican federal police said they rescued 68 migrants being held for ransom in the border city of Reynosa. The two hostage-takers under arrest are allegedly members of the Gulf Cartel, not the Zetas, creating a dilemma for those trying to analyze this complicated passage point.
The Zetas have been blamed for the majority of kidnappings, mass graves, and the 145 bodies that have been recently pulled from some 27 mass graves in the state of Tamaulipas. Many of these are suspected migrants, like the ones rescued in Reynosa.
Picking apart just who controls what part of the route north, however, is proving a little more difficult, especially after yesterday’s announced raid on a safe house that netted 68 migrants – twelve of whom were from Central America – two suspected hostage-takers, a cache of weapons and ammunition, and several fancy cars.
The migrants said they’d been abducted from the city’s bus station and that the men identified themselves as Gulf Cartel members. The Gulf and the Zetas are fighting for control of the state of Tamaulipas. But the Gulf Cartel is thought to control Reynosa, the entry point for many of these migrants.
The capture and holding of the migrants is most likely a dispute over what the Mexicans call “derecho de piso.” In broad terms, the “piso” is a toll that large criminal organizations charge small or large ones that do not control the area for using their territory as a transit, staging, or storage area for illegal goods. This “piso” is big money and can reach up to 50 percent of the merchandise’s perceived value. If “piso” is not paid to whomever controls the territory, then consequences can be severe, including the theft or destruction of the merchandise.
In the case of migrants, the merchandise is the people. This fight for “piso” is just one of the theories explaining why criminal groups kidnapped and killed 72 migrants last August in the neighboring municipality of San Fernando, as well as why they might have executed several dozen more in the months since, piling them into mass graves that are appearing throughout the same municipality now.
The smugglers have to pay this “piso” at various points along the journey. This week, the National Human Rights Commission (Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos – CNDH) of Mexico issued a press release that delineates the most dangerous municipalities for migrants (see it in pdf form here) on their way north, which may coincide with these payment points. The CNDH based its findings on interviews it did with thousands of migrants in refuges along the more traditional routes.
InSight provides a map below of those areas, which draws from the work of an earlier map about the routes.
The cities are concentrated in sixteen different Mexican states: Baja California Norte, Chiapas, Coahuila, Mexico State, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Queretaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz.
Most of the states and municipalities reflected in the CNDH’s declaration lie along a few popular routes for migrants. They also largely coincide with the 25 “hot spots” pointed out last year by Juan Miguel Alcantara Soria, head of Mexico’s National Public Security System, where migrants have suffered abuses (and also reflected on the map).
Interestingly, only one of Mexico’s six border states not to have any cities on the CNDH list was Chihuahua, the most violent state in Mexico for the past several years. It’s not clear if that’s because it’s relatively safe to pass through Chihuahua – highly doubtful given the recent violence in that state – or because the CNDH simply has no information.
The problem is most severe in Tamaulipas, but, as the CNDH report indicates (and the map shows), there are dangers lurking for migrants in much of the country. For instance, 40 migrants disappeared in Oaxaca last year, and the CNDH has estimated that some 22,000 migrants are kidnapped in Mexico each year.
View InSight Map: The Dangerous Journey North for Migrants in a larger map