14ymedio, Alejandro Mena Ortiz, 26 April 2022 — That day they woke us up at four in the morning and gathered us together as if it were a show at dawn, grouping and distributing us: some by car, others in vans. I was assigned to go in a hermetically closed truck, with 27 other people. I said to myself: “My God, I can’t believe they’re going to put me in one of these closed things for so long!” But luckily, the trip was ten minutes. And then, in the forest: “Run, run!” and it continued until we got on a ‘coaster’ heading to Santa Elena.
There were many children in that group. With us, there were five: a one-year-old baby and others between 7 and 10 years old. Two kilometers after we were on our way, the police stopped us. The agents, we’d been told, were already paid, but they’d suggested we carry a $20 bill, just in case. It was $20 each for 27 people, just imagine.
Then the guide got out, they spoke, and the policeman told him: “Ok, go on.” We hadn’t even advanced 500 or 600 meters, when the patrol car came behind us at full speed, with the siren on, beeping for us to stop. At that moment we said: “Well, this is screwed up,” because one of the guards got on, with a lot of gesturing and a machine gun, and told the guide: “You’re a liar, I should shoot you in the head.” The children began to cry, a woman began to scream… and the two of them kept arguing:
– Hey, no, look here, the boss…
– I don’t want to talk to your boss, you’re a liar.
Apparently, the man had told him that the chief of police knew about us, but the other said he didn’t. I don’t know if they had not given him enough money.
– I’m not going to talk to anyone, move to one side because I’m taking all of you prisoners. Turn around.
Normally the guides say that if they take us prisoner, they take care of it, but my faith was a bit shaky at that moment. We hadn’t gone back even a kilometer and a huge black truck appeared, with the famous boss. They positioned themselves in the middle and got off. The policeman would point with the machine gun and I thought: “They’re going to shoot each other here and I don’t know what’s going to become of us.”
But they managed to fix the situation by slipping him some dough, which is what Guatemalans call money, and the policeman allowed us to continue, with the black truck in front of us all the way, making way for us. Thus, every time we passed near a patrol car, those in the black truck were there and waved their hands at us to advance.
We arrived at a restaurant in the middle of a town. It was 10 in the morning, too early to eat, but we had to eat. They gave us orange juice, a tortilla, cheese, beans, beef, very tasty, with onions… They told us that wherever we stopped to eat, we should do so, because one never knew when we could do it again later.
We headed out again, and when we reached a river intersection, we parted ways. I was going to Santa Elena and the others were going to a place called El Naranjo, on the border with Mexico, further north, because they were going to Cancun, to sort out the famous fake visas and be able to fly to Mexicali to cross the border. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything from them or from Lauren. That was the last place we saw each other. I hope they have arrived safely at their destination.
When we crossed the river, the guide in the black van told me: “Come, Cuban, you’re going the other way.” And then he spoke with a man in a minivan, which was on route to Santa Elena, and he took me with him. I told him: “Hey, are you going to leave me alone?” And he replied: “Don’t worry, if that man hands you over to someone other than the one I’m telling him about, we’ll kill him. Him and his whole family.” He told me just like that.
He gave the man $40 and said: “Listen to what I’m going to tell you: hand him over there, and make sure nothing happens to him. And if it goes well, I’ll have more work for you.” So, the man took me to a little town, one of those typical ones that have many small markets outside the houses – there was such beautiful fruit, melons, oranges, grapes, even strawberries – and I didn’t understand it.
The man took only me, but in the end, about five more people got on board, and I had to ride while hiding my nationality, because, according to what I heard, if they found out you were Cuban, they viewed you with distrust.
Finally, the man left me in Santa Elena. Just before arriving, I contacted the person who had to pick me up and sent him my location via WhatsApp. He was waiting for me, he got in front of the truck and said: “Unload the Cuban,” as if I were a sack of potatoes.
From there, he took me to a motel, a very humble, simple little hotel, but the truth is that those were the few days I was able to rest from the entire trip, which had been quite stressful until then. In fact, I felt very safe in Santa Elena, in Guatemala.
I met Juan and Juana, the manager of the little motel and the cook, a very nice old lady, very friendly. She had lost her husband in the pandemic and she had to sell everything to go live with a son, but she was building a house thanks to the work the manager gave her.
Despite being what he was, because he was a human trafficker, I saw that man help several people in the four days that I was there. The first day I saw a Cuban couple, his name was Yasmani and he was an ambulance worker in Cuba.
On July 11th, he took to the streets to protest, but afterwards he was so disappointed… The funny thing is that he told me that the next day they were handing out clubs to defend the ambulances’ parking lot, and to beat Cubans on the streets. “But how is this possible?” He told me. So, he came in and said, “Hey, the ambulance is smashed, it can’t go out today.” And he turned around and went home.
“Brother, after what I experienced on July 11th, the repression, the beatings and those who were imprisoned, I said to myself: “I can’t continue in this country,” he told me. He asked his relatives for help, took out a little money that he had collected from a business and set off for Nicaragua.
They were going to take the girl and him to Los Naranjos first, and then to Cancún and Mexicali. They were charging them $7,000 each, in addition to the ticket. By the way, first they had to travel to Barbados, then to Jamaica, with a stopover in Panama and from there, to Nicaragua. Huge rounds they had to do. I didn’t see them again afterwards, because they left at dawn. And those were the last Cubans I saw in a long time.
On the border with Mexico, if you don’t pay the ‘tax’ you get shot
Translated by Norma Whiting
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