Central American refugees

The plight of Syrian refugees in Europe, though serious, has blinded us to the plight of refugees from Central America, who are reaching the US border from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras at the rate of more than one thousand a day. Óscar Martínez, a young Salvadoran journalist, has covered the story for more than a decade.

Jude Webber, Mexico and Central America correspondent for the Financial Times, reviews a recent book by Martínez on this subject.

The book is a series of extended essays based on his reporting for El Faro, an award-winning Salvadoran online newspaper, and the unflinching cameos it paints offer a chilling portrait of corruption, unimaginable brutality and impunity.

Take the story of Grecia, a migrant sold as a prostitute to Los Zetas, the brutal Mexican drug cartel. A tattoo of a butterfly on a branch forming a “Z” brands her as their property. As she told a Salvadoran court after her release, return home and the arrest of one of the men who trafficked and repeatedly raped her, she made no attempt to escape after seeing what happened to another captive, Sonia, who had been freed after relatives paid a ransom. Sonia reported her captors to Mexican officials, but they handed her back to the traffickers, who clubbed her with a baseball bat and “because she wouldn’t die, they lit her on fire”, reducing her to “burned, hairless meat”.

The court’s verdict? The trafficker was acquitted; Grecia was ruled to have contradicted herself. ….

Martínez tells his readers: “I want you to understand what thousands of Central Americans are forced to live through. Then you can understand why they keep coming, and will continue to come.”

Jude Webber, “‘A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America’, by Óscar Martínez“, Financial Times, 12 March 2016 (metered paywall).

The book, published just four days ago by Verso Books, most likely is a translation from Spanish of Los migrantes que no importan (Editorial Icaria, 2010).


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