- Those responsible demanded ransom from the victims' families in the United States
- Upon escaping, the Central Americans were helped by the population, who attacked the agents
by Martín Hernández Alcántara (La Jornada de Oriente)
translation and notes by Kristin Bricker
Lara Grajales, Puebla, October 12, 2008. Some 32 undocumented Central Americans had been kidnapped and tortured since last Thursday by at least twelve men who were identified as members of the Los Zetas* group and received support from municipal police with the goal of extorting money from their family members who reside in the United States. They demanded USD$3,500 ransom for each one.
The victims managed to escape this morning, and their testimony about the complicity of the police provoked the wrath of the population, who during the night burned a patrol car and two police motorcycles in retaliation against the authorities.
The migrants, who come from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, were detained in the Lara Grajales municipality--50 kilometers from the capital of Puebla--while they were traveling hidden in a train coming from Tierra Blanca, Veracruz. Two municipal police searched the freight cars, forcing the stowaways off the train at gunpoint and bringing them to a safe house two blocks from the city council building.
On the property there were a dozen men with military-style haircuts--commanded by a bald and robust individual--who threatened to kill the Central Americans so that they would write down the names and telephone numbers of their families and friends in the United States. When the victims refused they began to torture them. They burned the abdomen of one of them, they stabbed the hands of others, and they beat the rest in the ribs and testicles.
Upon obtaining the information, the kidnappers made the phone calls, putting a few of the undocumented migrants on the phone and demanding USD$3,500 ransom for each one. Later--on Friday and Saturday--other migrants arrived at the safe house, amongst them five women, and the torment continued.
However, this morning the victims took advantage of the fact that the property was guarded by only two men, and they escaped. Many ran naked and they arrived at the Lara Grajales town center, where witnesses saw one of the captors wound one of the escaping hostages.
The residents helped them and captured two people: Carlos Alvarado Espinoza and Tomás del Ángel Muñoz, who the undocumented migrants identified as the police who forced them off the train. The accusations provoked the rage of the neighbors, who during the night started disturbances and were dispersed with tear gas.
Towards midnight at least six state and municipal police remained entrenched in the municipal palace, repelling the neighbors' attacks, and the state government was preparing an intervention with SWAT teams in order to calm the crowd.
During the disturbances some reporters were hit with rocks that the neighbors threw, although there were no reports of serious injuries.
* Los Zetas was a specialized unit of the Mexican military that received training in the US School of the Americas. After completing their US taxpayer-funded training, they defected from the military and became the armed wing of the Golfo drug cartel. The DEA recently reported that Los Zetas may be trying to break off from the Golfo cartel and form their own independent cartel. The DEA's theory is supported by numerous recent executions of Golfo cartel members and police in Tamaulipas by Los Zetas.
Los Zetas was also involved in the terrorist attack on the Morelia, Michoacan, Independence Day celebration this past September 15 that left eight people dead. Suspected Zetas members were arrested for the attack. A competing theory suggests that the La Familia cartel that controls Michoacan carried out the attack in order to provoke a military response against Los Zetas, which also operates in Michoacan.