Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chis. “The truth, sir, is that we were lucky because we can't explain how we got out of there alive. I had to get three of them off me to be able to get up, I was full of blood and I checked to see if the blood was mine, but I could walk, I had almost nothing, only my chest hurt a lot. We were lucky,” says 18-year-old Selvin Lanusa Santos from Nueva Santa Rosa in San Marcos, Guatemala.
He is interrupted by his companion Carlos Roberto Franco Píneda, 17, who is also recovering from the accident and says "It wasn't luck, it was God's mercy that left us alive."
In the middle of both is Keyli Vanessa Ambrosio Jiménez, 15 years old. She listens to them, and she also talks about how she was in the accident on Thursday, December 9 at kilometer six of the Tuxtla Gutiérrez-Chiapa de Corzo highway, near the El Refugio neighborhood.
"We were on top of each other, I had a seven-year-old girl on top of me who had a big hole in her head" -she says- and everyone in the room remembers her and begins to wonder what will have become of the little girl who was traveling with his mother, who was also injured. "God willing she was saved," says someone in the room and everyone else nods.
They ask me how many people are officially dead and I tell them that they have reported 55, that 49 died at the scene of the accident and six in hospitals. They are shocked. Selvin breaks the silence and addresses Carlos Roberto "I told you that up to 100 dead were going to arrive, it's that you didn't see that behind the biggest sheet there were more".
In this room, about three by seven meters, of the Red Cross clinic in the Tuxtla Gutiérrez delegation, there are seven people recovering from the injuries they suffered when a trailer that brought at least 159 migrants, most of them from Guatemala, overturned.
Although the survivors agree that there were more, that some fled the place still wounded to avoid being deported.
"He told me to leave, but how could I leave with my foot like this if I can't walk?" says Carlos Roberto, and Selvin laughs when he realizes how crazy his proposal was, but at that moment where they saw each other bodies everywhere and with the fear of being arrested, which still prevails in them, did not sound so bad.
The people who are in this room are among those who came out of the accident the best. They have bumps and scrapes on different parts of the body, one of them has a broken arm.
Of the 105 people injured in the accident, 38 entered the Red Cross that Thursday; but four were sent to hospitals due to their serious condition. 10 more arrived with minor to moderate injuries. But in the last few hours, 17 migrants and one Mexican person have been discharged. In the clinic there are still 26 migrants.
No one knows for sure where the 17 migrants who were discharged were taken, what staff from the National Migration Institute (INM) said is that they would be in a hotel in Tuxtla Gutiérrez while their immigration status is defined.
Chiapas and Guatemala, divided only by a border line
It is 11:30 in the morning of December 10, 2021, almost 20 hours have passed since the accident, and outside the Red Cross Clinic in Tuxtla Gutiérrez it is chaos, there are at least a dozen journalists from all other parts, as many volunteers who receive the solidary help that has not stopped flowing from the citizens.
People arrive in cars, vans, and taxis to drop off bottled water, food, personal hygiene products, healing materials, and clothing. Everything is received, although not everything works at the moment.
“We don't need any more clothes, nor cakes for today we already have enough. We need healing material, sheets, pillows, bar or granulated soap, everything that serves to disinfect” repeats over and over again a young woman who is receiving the things at the entrance of the clinic.
A patrol from the State Public Security Secretariat remains in front of this hospital. Two women who identify themselves as from the State Attorney General's Office and DIF personnel are also outside. Visibly there are no migration elements.
It's supposed to be winter, but Tuxtla Gutiérrez knows no seasons. Here there is a resplendent sun 365 days a year, and this day it is 37 degrees. The journalists from the center of the country and foreigners sweat everywhere, they get dehydrated.
The situation inside the clinic is not very different because the heat is also felt, but most of the people hospitalized are used to this climate because at the end of the day Chiapas and Guatemala are Central America, they are only divided by a border line. Not only is the warmth shared, but also the conditions of poverty, although with nuances, are similar and even the way of speaking is not very different.
Journalists are allowed to enter in shifts. They give me and another colleague the green light to go through and we enter a clinic whose deficiencies are obvious. The Red Cross does not receive public funding so it lives on donations, and in the poorest state of Mexico, what can be collected does not go far.
We passed a pavilion, and a reporter was interviewing a survivor, behind a curtain there was a couple resting on the same stretcher. At the back, in a larger room, there are seven people recovering, but only two have a bed. One is accommodated in a plastic chair and the rest are lying on mats that have been accommodated on the floor, some reaching sheets and others not. They use bags full of clothes as pillows.
It is clear that the clinic does not have enough space to care for all these people. People of different sexes are in common areas, they were accommodated by their seriousness. It is difficult to have a degree of intimacy in these conditions.
I watch as two nurses take one of the injured teenagers into a bathroom to change her bandage because the room is full of men.
There are convalescents resting on the floor in the corridors, wandering through the clinic and bumping into each other because there is no space. The injured have splints made of cardboard because the healing material is insufficient in this place, but also the medical support. Only one volunteer traumatologist is seeing all the injured.
I stay in the doorway of the room, inside a reporter from a foreign media interviews another of the convalescents. I ask the young man closest to me if we can talk and he tells me that he is a minor and it is his way of avoiding the interview.
I understand. But he points me to another of his classmates and tells me that he is 18 and that he can talk. He allows me to enter the room and I settle between them. There are three: Selvin Lanusa Santos, 18 years old, Keyli Vanessa Ambrosio Jiménez, 15 years old, and Carlos Roberto Franco Pineda, 17 years old. They tell me that they do not want to be recorded or photographed because several journalists have entered with cameras in hand without even asking them. I tell them that they have the right to answer our questions or not, to refuse to be recorded or photographed. "Say no if that's what you want" and curiously it was when I told them that that the three agreed to give me the interview.
The word that could define the feeling of these young people is “uncertainty”. Before getting on the trailer they had at least one destination in mind, but now they don't know what will happen to them, nobody tells them anything. They end up asking me about everything. I joke with them and tell them “as I came to interview you and you have asked me more questions than I have asked you” and they laugh.
They do not know if they will be deported, if so, when and under what conditions, how long they will remain in the clinic, if they can be beneficiaries of refuge in Mexico, if they will end up in a migrant holding center (that is what they fear the most). In this same clinic there is a young man who is worried because he does not know where the body of his brother-in-law who died in the accident is. His sister questions him on the phone and he doesn't know what to answer because the information doesn't flow to the families or from the Mexican authorities, but neither does the Guatemalan one. What they find out is through the media.
They don't want to talk because they don't know if something could incriminate them or cause problems in the future. They do not know who are journalists, who are prosecutors, health personnel or officials.
I ask them if Human Rights personnel or any civil organization that accompanies migrants has arrived. So far not one. The Guatemalan consul in Chiapas came to see them on Thursday night and told them that he was going to find a way for them to be deported without being held in some migrant center.
It is evident that they are tired of repeating the same story over and over again to different people. The survivors fear for their future, they don't know what to say and to whom, and they let me know. I feel ashamed because I feel that my profession is sometimes very ruthless. I listen to my colleague's questions and I notice that they are revictimizing, but the ones we ask and the others are not very different. “How was the accident? where do you come from, what were you doing before getting on the trailer? Do you regret getting on it? Were they drowning? How much did they charge you?
One question after another because time is short and you need to send the note at a certain time; because they are taking us out of the clinic, and a dozen reporters are coming back to ask the same questions.
But, if as reporters we are clumsy, the staff of the Attorney General's Office (FGR) surpasses us. While I was talking with the survivors, a tall, corpulent man arrived with a huge FGR badge hanging from his chest. He crouched down and asked one of them directly, without identifying himself or making any kind of connection first, "what do you know about the operator of the vehicle?" Carlos did not understand the question and said “what operator? They did not operate on me”, then the official told him that he was referring to the driver of the trailer. Carlos doesn't know anything like the others who were in the room.
"The American dream"
"We would like to be deported to the United States," laughs Santos Marisol Chipel Carrillo, a 16-year-old K'iche' teenager, who joined the conversation after a long phone call in which she spoke in her mother tongue. Her talk was heard by two more young people who were in another area and they came to the room where we were to ask who was speaking Quiche, both Marisol and Elvin Miguel Chiper, 19, said they were. The young people, who arrived through the familiar sound of a Mayan language, are also indigenous, one Akateko and the other Cakchiquel.
Although there were more people in the room, those who dared to speak were these seven people, who are entering Mexican territory for the first time. Not one exceeds 30 years of age. To migrate you need to be young. With the exception of Carlos Roberto, all the others will try again to reach the United States. In Guatemala, they say, there is no future for them and they are believed, if after what they lived they continue to think that risking doing it again is their best option.
Different civil organizations that work for the rights of migrants have pointed out that it is the criminalization of migration and the failed policies on this issue that caused this accident, which exposed the migration crisis that has been going on for a couple of years and which has worsened with the pandemic.
He also made it clear that immigration policies are hypocritical because while they are not allowed free transit legally, they are covered up illegally. The accident was a few meters from a permanent checkpoint of the Secretary of Public Security of the State.
On the trailer's route there are two more checkpoints that are itinerant.
Given the lack of opportunities in their places of origin and the violence, people decide to migrate in conditions in which they put their lives at risk and for which they have to pay money that is very difficult for them to obtain.
Selvin's family sold a piece of land, his only estate, in the hope that the son most likely to get a job in the United States would later be able to send dollars. He will now come home worse than when he left.
Keyli's uncle was the one who paid both for her transfer and that of her cousin, who is in serious condition at the Gilberto Gómez Maza general hospital. He says that in Guatemala he has nothing to do, his grandmother whom he cared for died in the pandemic and the rest of his family is in the United States. The young woman is 15 years old and her future in her country, she says, is to get married and trust that things will go well for her, but she doesn't want that. She is the only one in the group who says that she crossed the border to study. The others talk about working.
Santos Marisol's older sister traveled the same way she did three months ago, but had better luck. She reached the United States and after paying for her own trip, she sent him some money so that he could reach her, but the meeting will not be possible. "I'm going to have to go back to Guatemala and maybe I'll do it again (try to cross the border), but after the scare gets over me," says the Quiche teenager from Uspantán in Guatemala.
Elvin Miguel Chipel does not doubt it for a second. He is going to try again once he can get some money together, but he sees it as difficult because in Guatemala he earns 50 quetzales a day, about 135 pesos, so it will take time.
“Life there is very difficult, they give you 50 quetzales for working all day, it's not enough for anything. Everything went up. There is a lot of violence because there is no money,” says Miguel.
It strikes me how all these young people are convinced of the “American dream” and that is how they name it: “we were going for the American dream” they repeat several times. Since they were little they have heard stories of compatriots who speak of earning dollars, of building houses in their places of origin with a couple of years of work, of people who make a fortune working in construction or in restaurants. In the minds of these people, who have not even reached the age of majority, there is not the dangers of the journey, nor what is suffered in a foreign country as a migrant.
The one who is determined not to cross the border of his country again is Carlos Roberto, he considers that there is nothing worth more than life and especially when you are 17 years old. The only thing he thinks about is going back to Guatemala and trying to forget everything he experienced in Mexico.
The two Mayan indigenous people who stood in the doorway listening to the conversation say that things are more difficult for them as indigenous people, they talk about the discrimination they suffer in jobs, the lack of opportunities and how even when they were traveling in the trailer they were discriminated against by other classmates for speaking their mother tongue. They assure that there are more indigenous people who died or are in hospitals, who came together when they recognized that they were of the same ethnic group, but with the overturn they all dispersed. They don't know their names, and they're not sure what happened to them. The staff of the Mexican dependencies, who have taken their data, do not ask them if they are from an indigenous culture, and the Guatemalan consul did not notice that either.
In the trailer, most were seated at the time of the accident, but there were those who were standing, it was worse for them. The people who transported them ordered them by sex, on one side were the women who were the least, and on the other all the men. The boys and girls came along with the women in the closest part of the cabin.
They had left San Cristóbal de las Casas where they were put together in a warehouse. Each person in the trailer came with different travel times depending on where they came from. “Being inside Guatemala, we move around by bus or on foot because we can be there, but when you cross the border, you want to join a group or see how to move forward,” says Elvin.
Those who left from places farthest from the border had been on the road for five or six hours, and others had barely left Huehuetenango, the place that borders the Chiapas border, about seven hours from Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
They are all cautious and do not give details of how they contacted the people who transported them, nor do they give an exact amount of how much they paid, or the places where they were or where they were going exactly. They generally say that their next stop would be Veracruz and the last, Puebla. They do not give details, and I do not insist. Obviously it bothers them.
The seven people who agree to talk with me did not know each other, although after what happened some of them treat each other with familiarity, they joke with each other, but they also cry. Carlos Roberto is worried because he says that his tears are stuck "since yesterday I haven't been able to cry, I don't know why, but I haven't been able to cry and I want to cry."
Selvin breaks the awkward moment again and says "remember that your girlfriend who left you and you'll see how you don't cry, catracho" we all laughed more for not delving into the pain than for how funny the comment would have been.
More than the accident itself, what they tell me is what happened afterwards. The seven agree on something: “if it wasn't for the people who came to help us capable and we would all have been crushed to death because we made a volcano, falling one on top of the other”.
I tell you that the people who helped them are from the neighborhood "El Refugio", in Chiapa de Corzo, place of the capsize. I also show them that at night they put an offering for the people who died, that they improvised a mass and prayed for everyone's health. "Here we also pray for them because they were very good people."
Carlos and Selvin remember that some ladies took them to their house, washed them, and that's when they realized how injured they were. They gave them their children's shirts, and even offered them a “drink” to scare them.
"Do you remember that the young lady had already served us food when the ambulance arrived," Selvin tells Carlos. And the other replies "to know where the lady or able had gotten extra food and it was her food that she was giving us, there we were going to leave it without eating."
All seven have a story to tell about how they were helped by people they had never seen. To some to look for their things, to all they offered water, they lent them a telephone to be able to communicate with their family, they cried with them, they hugged them.
“El Refugio” in Chiapa de Corzo is not very different from a neighborhood in the capital of the country of Guatemala. Most of the houses are inhabited by working people with precarious wages, and it would not be surprising to know that there are also those who have migrated to the United States. There are unpaved streets and drinking water service is intermittent. It was those from below helping those from below. Maybe Carlos is right and he was a person giving up eating to give it to someone else no matter where he came from.
“At least we stay alive, we survive”
I can no longer avoid leaving the clinic, I have stayed longer than allowed. The survivors have helped me stay longer to talk with them because we used the excuse that I had lent them my charger for their phone. We didn't lie at all, it was true. Some managed to rescue their cell phones, but they don't have chargers. I have to go and I say goodbye to them, when I leave they jokingly tell me to adopt them, that they know how to do everything. I don't know them very well, but I have no doubt that they are good and hard-working people, that geography and politics determined their destiny.
I always think that young people have more of a future than a past and I want to tell them that, don't lose hope, that everything will be better, but after talking with them, after what happened on Thursday, I don't even believe it. Every future, now, in this room at the Red Cross is full of uncertainty, nothing looks better than it did a few days ago, but Carlos gives me the answer “at least we are alive, we survive”.
*This text was taken from the portal HereNoticias