Cuban Migration Part 8 – In Monterrey, Each Cartel Assigns a Code to its Migrants

They dropped us off at a gas station in mid-trip, and again they put us back in a minibus. (EFE/Juan Manuel Blanco)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alejandro Mena Ortiz, 30 April 2022 — Three hours into the trip, on the way to Monterrey, I had cramps on my buttocks. Imagine eleven more hours. Luckily, I took a paracetamol which relieved the pain, but after a few hours the pain was back again. I asked them to please let me stretch out my foot but I couldn’t: there was no room.

There, I heard a very interesting story. There was a Nicaraguan who worked in a Managua restaurant, where President Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo love to eat. Although he did not like what the leaders were doing to the country, he was very happy when they came to the restaurant for dinner, because they left each one of the servers a 100-dollar tip, and according to what he told me, there were sometimes as many as 14 to 16 servers. The Ortegas went to eat at the restaurant as often as once a week, the Nicaraguan declared, and he told me that when Díaz-Canel was in Nicaragua for the inauguration, they asked them to close the place, because he was going to go with Ortega, although at the end, they changed plans and went somewhere else.

The individual I was talking to was also one of those who were not running away from the political situation. Only one of the ones I met was leaving for that reason. The rest were leaving to make some money and then return.

They dropped us off at a gas station in mid-trip, and again they put us back in a minibus. We spent an hour waiting for some guards to leave the area we had to cross, and from there, we went to a small desert town, with a sun so strong that it burned you, although it was not as hot as in Cuba.

They put us in a warehouse at that location, with a swimming pool; they call those rural houses in Mexico una quinta (a country house). They had divided us into two groups: we were going to Monterrey, and the rest, to another place. Then a woman told us: “Look, please, those who have swimming suits may change and go swimming; the rest, stay around here. Let’s put on a little music. In case inspectors come, you guys rented this property and are celebrating a birthday.

Those who went swimming had a nice day, but in the end, everything was so-so, because they told us that we could not drink the tap water, so we were not able to drink anything until around three in the afternoon, when they showed up with two 5-liter water bottles of water, but there were more than 60 of us! Then they brought two tacos per person and some weird beans, with a little bit of meat, but it was terrible. I looked at it and thought: “Well, I’ll have to eat it, who knows how long we will be here and if they will bring us food again.” Good thing, because we were there all day, all night, and until late the next dawn.

The vans that were to pick us up at 10 o’clock had to go to the other place, because half of the people in the other group had been put in a container and they didn’t want to go because they were suffocating. They started banging and banging, and, luckily, the driver stopped and about 20 or 25 got out: they complained that they had paid thousands of dollars and they didn’t want to continue in the container where they were suffocating.

“The others, stay around here. Let’s put on some music. In case inspectors come, you guys rented this and are celebrating a birthday

The vans finally appeared at our location at 5:00 in the morning. Only women and children slept in the house, the men had to mostly sleep outside. In the desert it is terribly sunny during the day, but at night it’s three times worse, because it turns very cold.

The vans, thank God, did have heating, and we were able to take off our coats for a little while. The trip turned out to be much longer than anticipated, because we had to avoid several control points, and the trip, supposed to be completed in five hours, took us about eight.

Upon arrival in Monterrey, we waited at a place in the city for some taxis, in which they divided us up to finally board a closed truck, which had openings on the roof, at another location. There were 42 people there, and we stayed together until the end. I was the only Cuban, the rest were Honduran, Nicaraguans and Guatemalan.  There was a warehouse where we stayed locked-up for a day and a half, and it was also very cold and the conditions were bad.  There weren’t enough sleeping matts for all of us, and we squeezed in as best we could.

At least they did bring us good food, and the things they sold us were cheaper than in Mexico City. However, I had another anxiety crisis, because everything was closed, and when I called my family, I exploded: “This can’t be real. I don’t understand what’s happening, they didn’t tell me it would be like this.” They always paint everything in rosy colors, that’s the hook, and, despite everything, I can’t complain, because there are people who have a worse time of it.

From there they took us to a small field where there were three or four trucks, in which we already knew there were some people, although not how many. We got the biggest truck, one like the ones used in Cuba to transport sugar cane, with high railings in the back. When we got on, there were already almost 200 people there. We were all pressed as tight as possible, without the possibility of holding on. It was a short but hard trip. There were several people who injured their ankles, including me, although nothing that prevented me from continuing.

At midnight we arrived at a point near Reynosa where we stopped, because there was a checkpoint with seven patrols. Apparently, a truck like ours, trafficking undocumented immigrants, had overturned. They allowed us to get out of the truck, the temperature was zero degrees, but we were able to smoke and eat some cookies, until we were able to continue at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.

Then we got to another place where we were divided into two groups. Each of us had a code that they gave us in Monterrey, which the cartels assign to you, and it is the one that you have to give the cartel, so that you are allowed to continue or to take you to the border. There were many, many of us, in several trucks. There had to be more than 400 people, because I was number 367. We looked like merchandise.

Forty-two of us were picked up at that warehouse, in two vans. That was the last warehouse before crossing, the one in Reynosa. In it, I met a Honduran who had been waiting three months for a supposedly special trip, because he was physically disabled, but his son, who was in the US and was paying for everything, was taken and sent back to Honduras. The guy had been there for three months, waiting for his son to have enough money again, because he couldn’t go around like the others to avoid controls.

It was extremely cold in that place too, although the coyote treated me very well. They were not used to Cubans and they asked me about many things, and they treated me differently because I was from Cuba. We stayed there for three or four days. The conditions were not the best, the food was not the best, but at least we were relaxed after so much travel.

When they came for us, they separated us into lists: Cubans, Nicaraguans, and women and children, one from El Salvador and the other women from Honduras. They are handed over because they are not rejected: if they are accompanied by small children, they are allowed entry. The Hondurans and Guatemalans had to stay and wait for another list to make their escape. They cross and begin to circle to avoid the migration guards; quite the opposite of what we do, those of us who are delivered. We cross and we have to look for the guards to turn ourselves in, so they can take us prisoner.

When they came for us, they separated us into lists: Cubans, Nicaraguans, and women and children, one from El Salvador and the other women from Honduras.

On the fourth day it was my group’s turn. They came for us in a van, we were nine adults and two children, and they took us to a place very close to the Rio Grande. They screened us through a person who gave us some numbered blue bracelets with the word “delivery” on them. For each migrant who crosses, the coyote has to pay the cartel, and that is carefully controlled, because sometimes they try to pay less, which has resulted in many deaths. That’s why now they do it like this, all square: person for money.

I was lucky, because a few days ago I was able to talk to the guy who used to be my barber in Havana, who now lives in the US, and I noticed he acted very strange. This is not the David I know, I thought. The point is that he crossed through Piedras Negras, Coahuila, with about 120 others, at 3:00 in the morning. He says that they threw a small raft for the children and a rope from one side to the other. That’s where adults had to go. The deepest part of the river covered his nose, and he is about five-and-a-half feet tall. He was helping a girl who, at one point, became very nervous, but she was holding on well to the bottom and they managed to cross about 70 meters of river. Ahead of them was a Nicaraguan woman who started to say: “I’m drowning, I’m drowning”… And before they could see her, she was gone. She vanished.

He was traumatized, and, at that moment, his legs did not respond, he could not cross, he lost consciousness. Luckily, the immigration officers caught him and wrapped him in blankets, but he told me that he thought he was going to die. His journey was shorter than mine, but it was less safe: they took him prisoner in Honduras, they had a bus accident, then this last thing on the river… Everything was quite ugly.

Then they made us hide in a bush and wait for them to come and give us the signal. 


They put 15 of us on our knees on a raft to cross the Rio Grande

Translated by Norma Whiting


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