Cuban Migration Part 6 – Encounter with Angel, the Gang Member Who Fled from Crime

Río Usumacinta, que divide Guatemala de México. (14ymedio)
Usumacinta River, which divides Guatemala from Mexico. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alejandro Mena Ortiz, 28 April 2022 — The entrance to Mexico was incredibly calm, it was as if we were arriving home. There was also one of these mobsters there, I guess waiting for a payment. After a while, the guide returned with a very modern Nissan and took us to a warehouse to wait.

I met some Nicaraguans there and we started a conversation.  They began to tell me about the atrocities that Ortega was doing with the elections. That if the country was screwing up, that if it was soon going to be the new Venezuela, that if they were afraid and decided to go out to try their fortune in the United States… They left with the intention of earning money for two or three years and coming back… which I don’t understand, because if they think that their country is a mess…

We spent a couple of hours until they came to pick us up and took us to Palenque along an incredibly long highway, where there were many túmulos (grave mounds), which is what we call in Cuba police officers acostados (lying down), in other words, ‘speed bumps.’

The man accelerated and I thought: “My God, we’re going to die!” Nobody in the car was wearing a seatbelt: the driver in front, two women next to him, one sitting on top of the other, and four in the back, three Nicaraguans and me, very uncomfortable. At 180 kilometers per hour, if the car hits a stone on the road I would have died, just like that, without saying a word.

After four hours, we arrived at Palenque, which is where we changed trucks again. They kept us parked for about an hour and twenty minutes, the seven of us squeezed together. I was desperate to get off and because of the uncertainty, because the cartels already operate directly over us.

Finally, the truck left and suddenly we went from being alone to joining an immense caravan, so huge that I could not see neither tip nor tail of it: they were all nine-seater trucks, all loaded with migrants.

In Palenque they took us to a warehouse, which is what they call the places where they leave migrants, a three-story, though very narrow house. That place was just horrible, and it disturbed me. There were many Cubans inside. It was drizzling and we went in there, all wet and muddy from the coming and going of shoes, very dirty, very dark, with many children.

It was drizzling and we went in there, all wet and muddy from the coming and going of shoes, very dirty, very dark, with very many children

The children played with each other on very thin foam mats and the mothers were desperate. One approached us and told us: “Hey, you have to go in, you can’t stay there” because according to what they said, the migra (Immigration agents) and the Federals were constantly passing by and shouldn’t see anyone outside. But in reality, everyone knows what happens there. Everything I saw in Mexico was too much.

Luckily, the driver took us to his house, which was on the outskirts, and had one of these empty warehouses, so we were the only ones there. His wife was very friendly, she treated us very well. She made us some fried fish and she gave us a drink. They would say to me: “Look, Cuban, try this fruit.” On the farm they had pigs, birds, rabbits, everything. There, I ate fruits that I had never eaten in my life, fruits I didn’t even know existed.

We slept in a bed each, with air conditioning, though I was already beginning to feel the Mexican cold.

The next day was February 14th, the Day of Love and Friendship, and they had a celebration with streamers and tequila. They gave me beers from Mexico to try and they asked me about Cuba. I wanted to be more discreet there, but I told them a few things. That man belonged to a cartel, according to other migrants, of the Zetas, and God knows what things he must have done, because he had a good position within the cartel. All in all, that man was very sympathetic to the Cuban situation that I was telling him about: he didn’t know anything and he told me that he hoped everything would happen soon, because Cuba must be a beautiful country.

They were planning the route to go to Cancun, because from Palenque they distribute migrants to Villahermosa and to Cancun

That night, three Cubans arrived, two young girls and a young man, who were surprised to find out how quickly I had gotten there. They were planning the route to Cancun, because from Palenque they distribute migrants to Villahermosa and to Cancun. There, they had to board these famous Mexicali flights, from where you cross the border on foot. In other words, there is no river there, they open a small door for you, you cross and you are already in the United States.

The next day, the man calls and tells his wife to get ready, because there are 80 Cubans on the way to the house. And I couldn’t believe it, there was hardly room for 30! But I started organizing with her and I even helped make food for everyone, and they thought I was one of them, and I had to tell them that no, I was just another Cuban.

There, because the world is as small as a handkerchief, I found a person who stood in line at Trimagen, a store in my Havana neighborhood. The man started talking to me.  He used to stand in line holding places for others, for a fee, but that the pandemic… “you know,” and the son was in the US, so he and his wife managed to get money to get out. That entire group, all 80 of them, went by way of the Cancun visa. They protested a lot, because they said that they were treated like cattle and they had paid a lot of money: some about 5,000 dollars, others 7,000 dollars. Each one is different.

Among the 80, there was one who turned out to be Uruguayan, with his heavy accent. So I asked him. This guy traveled to Cuba in 2021, and while he was there, he decided to get a Cuban identity. He did not want to explain to me how he did it, only that it cost him 11,000 dollars, and he told me that in this way, he could get the benefits that we Cubans get, to stay in the United States. He had gone out into the streets on July 11th, but not to protest, just to watch. That’s what the Uruguayan said, but Alison and I speculated that he had some problem in his country, or that he was a fugitive. He seemed like a nice person, but you never know.

That afternoon they finally took us to Villahermosa. The caravan was composed of about eight vehicles and we were evading some controls, but the truth is that everything went great, everyone was talking: the driver, Alison and the three Cubans.

There were two Nicaraguans who were indeed quieter. The driver also thought that Cuba was the pearl of the Caribbean, but one of the girls told him that she was from Las Tunas, where she worked as a teacher, and her income was not enough to feed her son. The driver said: “Well, but if they live on an island, they must have fish, they have to have fish.” I laughed.

We told him that there was a dictatorship in Cuba, and he said that he had lived through hard times in Mexico, but he had never had to worry about what he was going to eat tomorrow.

I left that car quite depressed, after remembering so many things about my country, but I arrived in Villahermosa at a warehouse and since then I haven’t seen any more Cubans. It was a very large and very nice house, very modern, in which I spent four days with 50 or 60 Hondurans. Every morning, the managers brought us food and we distributed the housework to each other: some cleaned, others cooked, others tidied up… The only thing we couldn’t do was be on the porch, in case they saw us.

The driver kept saying: “Well, but if they live on an island at least they must have fish, they have to have fish” I laughed

In one of the rooms where I had to sleep in that house, we had some of these mats that have a blue lining, like a swimming pool, with a quilt, and in each room, for example, 12 or 13 people slept in mine, the men below and the women above, separated.

I thought, since there were no Cubans, who was I going to talk to? but it was very nice. “Look, a Cuban,” many said, because they had never seen a Cuban. In fact, I think not one of them had. Then they began to ask me things and we talked and we had a lot in common. That group arrived at the border together and we helped each other a lot, all the time.

I made a lot of friends with Ángel. He was 21 years old and had two small children, that’s why he identified with me, because I also have two. He told me that he was from northern Honduras, a large area of San Pedro Sula and its surrounding towns, where a lot of gangs, MS-13 and Barrio 18, operate. Ángel became acquainted with the wrong people and ended up being a hitman. He made it clear to me that he did not kill, that he was a driver.

Then he told me that he had to lead the hit men to kill people and once they had to kidnap one on the orders of his brother, apparently because of a drug problem. The brother paid about 10,000 dollars not only to have his brother killed, but to be tortured. He wanted the brother to be hung in one place and skinned alive. When he saw that, he couldn’t stand it and had to leave so he could vomit.

Then they began to ask me things and we talked and we had a lot in common. We and that team got to the border together and we helped each other a lot, all the time.

He saw horrible things, one of the other rival gangs had problems with him and, in the end, he ended up talking to his hitmen friends to go kill all those who were threatening him. So he finally did, he ended up firing a gun and killing, killing people. And for that reason, he left. He first went into hiding, and left after a month.

Ángel has a brother who lives in California who was helping him get out of that movie set environment. As much as they tell me, I can’t imagine something like that in real life.

The thing about the gangs in Honduras is terrible. I heard horrible things about that country, like if you wear a specific shoe worn by Gang 18, without being a member, they will shoot you, or that you can’t drive by with tinted car windows… Alison, the girl who travels with me, is 17 years old and has lived there all her life, but someone who was involved in a gang took an interest in her and ‘made her life a yogurt’, as we say in Cuba [made her life impossible]. He chased her, tried to rape her… Then she told her father, who has lived in the US for 13 years: “Daddy, I need you to get me out of here, because they are going to rape me.” And he, of course, did the impossible to get the money.


To Mexico City, a 17-hour bus ride, standing.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.