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The Death of a Migrant and the Web of Policies That Caused It

The tragic death of Guatemalan migrant Rudy Alonso in Mexico during his journey to the US is emblematic of the human toll of the policies of governments in the region.
Members of a migrant caravan walk into the interior of Mexico after crossing the Guatemalan border on October 21, 2018, near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico.

Members of a migrant caravan walk into the interior of Mexico after crossing the Guatemalan border on October 21, 2018, near Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Last weekend, another migrant tragedy shook Mexico and Central America. On July 6, Mexican authorities found an 11-year-old Guatemalan boy hugging the dead body of his father, Rudy Alonso, in the east of the Mexican state of Morelos. The boy, Cristian Iban, who is still being held in a hospital in Morelos, was traveling by land to the United States with his father, his uncle, Luis Arturo, and his 17-year-old cousin, Byron Amilcar.

According to local media, the group left Guatemala on May 28 for the United States where they have family members. They had paid money to a coyote (an agent) who promised to bring them across Mexico by land, but after 15 days, they were abandoned in Veracruz.

On July 1, their family members in the US received a phone call from Mexico from the “Zetas” (allegedly a cartel) who asked them for USD 12,000 as ransom for their four family members. The family was only able to pull together USD 8,000, which they deposited but they did not hear back from the supposed kidnappers.

A few days later, on July 6, the family received a call from Morelos that Cristian Iban was in a hospital with a wound on his neck and had been found with the dead body of his father in the east of the State. After he was treated, the boy gave a statement to the authorities of the prosecutors’ office and declared that they had been chased by unidentified men and that him and his father were unable to escape.

The tragic incident shook the region. The rise in immigration from Central America to the US has been met with harsh responses, not only by the Trump administration but also by the governments in the region. Instead of tackling the root problems that lead to people leaving their homes, the governments take steps that make them even more vulnerable to violence and threaten their lives.

In response to this case, Mexican social movements and organizations have been mobilizing in order to demand that the government take appropriate action to support the family members of Rudy Alonso and facilitate the repatriation of his body to Guatemala.

Magdiel Sánchez Quiroz, who is part of the Mexican organization Nueva Constituyente Ciudadana Popular, and a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Peoples Dispatch that with regards to this case, the attitude of the government has generally been good and they have treated the child in a dignified, human way. But this is because there has been pressure from different social organizations. In most of these cases, the migrants are treated like criminals.

However, he warned that incidents like these are likely to increase, “It is important to highlight that these types of cases happen constantly  in Mexico. With the escalation of surveillance measures that were agreed upon between the Mexican government and Donald Trump, the frequency of these incidents will increase.”

Mexico’s anti-immigration measures

On June 7, a deal was announced between the US and Mexico on measures to curb the influx of migrants from Central American countries. The announcement was the result of a strong-arming tactic by Trump who threatened to raise tariff rates for Mexico every month it touched 25% in October. The measures came as a surprise to many as Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is considered to be a progressive and had previously declared that he would not be pressured by Trump. In fact, at the height of one of the migrant caravans, he had announced that his government would implement more humane policies towards the thousands of Central American migrants that pass through Mexico.

The most controversial element of the agreement was the announcement that Mexico would deploy an additional 6,000 members of the National Guard across the country with a focus on its southern border with Guatemala. “These operatives are being deployed by the government to detain migrants, not to monitor the integrity of the migrants or to deal with the general issues related to migration,” Sanchéz Quiróz explained.

Speaking about the political angle to the recent developments, he explained that the threat by Trump and consequent immigration agreement had occurred in a context where the US administration is launching attacks on all of the people of the world, with classic examples being Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and China. “With the loss of power and internal competition to remain politically on top, Trump is looking to attack all of these actors. In the Mexican case, there is the particularity that it is attacking its greatest provider of cheap labor, as well as the cheap labor of Central America and the Caribbean, and one of its primary partners in the trade war against China,” he commented. Mexico is the US’ third largest trading partner after China and Canada.

The threat, Sanchéz Quiróz said, was about more than just tariffs. It was a power play by the US to show itself as threatening and show that their threats work, and the Mexican government did not even try to challenge it. “It negotiated in bad conditions because of the compromised position due to 50 years of governments submitting to the will of the US. That being said, this new government submitted to the new demands of Trump at the first threat. The problem of this submission is grave because it opens the door so that anything Trump will get anything he wants.”

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