Tapachula, Mexico – Lying on a bed in a shelter for the undocumented, Honduran José Paz is recuperating from the amputation of his right foot, which occurred when he was pushed by a policeman and fell under the wheels of the “Train of Death,” which at the same time cut off his American dream.
“It is very painful when you remember how things happened. That federal policeman pushed me and I fell under the train, the wheel cut off my foot. This happened and now, today, I don’t want to go to the United States for that damned American dream. That is what fucked me up,” he told AFP in an angry tone.
José is one of the tens of thousands who every year board, on the run, the so-called “Train of Death” or “La Bestia,” a long, slow freight train on an uncertain schedule which, starting in Arriaga, Chiapas, in southern Mexico, takes a northern route toward Oaxaca and Veracruz with its load of corn, cement and undocumented migrants.
With light skin, dark green eyes and a sparse beard, this 31-year-old man recalls bitterly how he fell from the moving train, pushed by “that policeman,” on the outskirts of Coatzacoalcos, already in Veracruz, close to finishing his trip on La Bestia, but still a couple of thousand kilometers from the gringo border.
Originally from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, he arrived in Mexico in July and while he was getting ready to move on toward the United States, he did temporary jobs washing cars or helping out in small businesses.
After the accident happened, José asked to be taken in by a shelter named “Jesús el Buen Pastor” in Tapachula, Chiapas, where he has stayed for the past two months, together with other undocumented migrants, all of them injured, and some mutilated, by the train.
During the odyssey of 12 or 15 hours, sometimes more, the immigrants risk their lives constantly, as much from the risk of falling asleep and falling off as from being arrested when the train is stopped for a roundup by immigration officers or by criminals trying to capture illegals to demand ransom or to “sell” them as slave labor.
The journey by train for 28-year-old Salvadoran Luis Gerardo Santos was much shorter and with equally terrible results: he lost his leg when he failed in his attempt to board the train in Chiapas. “I didn’t grab onto the car very well and I slipped off.
“The train wheel crushed part of my leg,” said Santos, who, motivated by anxiety to rejoin his daughter in the United States, wants to continue the trip north, although he does not know when or how.
“I have a daughter in the Untied States and I want to get back to her,” added Santos, who was deported in 2005 after living there a couple of years. “I lost part of my body from wanting to go to the United States but I’m not afraid, I am going to try it again,” the Salvadoran says as tears fill his eyes.
In the Jesús el Buen Pastor shelter, other immigrants who have been mutilated hide; they don’t want to talk, “they keep their pain to themselves,” declares Carla Caravantes, one of those in charge of the shelter, which currently cares for some 20 of the injured.
Not far from this shelter for injured immigrants, in another part of Tapachula, is a reception center for the undocumented run by Mexican immigration authorities known as Estación Siglo 21. It is almost like a jail because of the strict security measures practiced inside it.
Women and men of different nationalities are taken there after being detained in various parts of Chiapas and are deported daily to their countries of origin. “I don’t want to be here any more. I’d rather they send me back to my country, but just get me out of here,” pleaded René Paramo, a dark-skinned Colombian, who was detained a week ago in Ciudad Hidalgo, on the southern Mexican border with Guatemala.