Sadness mixed with outrage turned to anger among many Central American activists in Los Angeles this week as they pondered images of Monday night’s inferno that engulfed Mexico’s National Migration Institute in Ciudad Juarez and killed at least 39 arrested immigrants.
Southern California activists condemned the behavior of guards escaping the holding area as flames licked cell doors in surveillance video and called for justice for the victims and their families.
The Mexican government said the fire was started by detainees who set fire to their mattresses in protest at the threat of deportation. But activists on both sides of the border have questioned that account and rebuked Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
“I want to tell the Mexican government not to be so inhumane,” said Cecilia Rodríguez, president of the Honduran Alliance of Los Angeles and a native of Choluteca, a province in southern Honduras. “This government of Mexico is a hypocrite. It doesn’t even help its own citizens. It seems to me that it is part of the mafia. Andrés Manuel López Obrador needs to understand that these people don’t want to live in Mexico, they just want to go through and to the United States.”
Mexican authorities have reported that 68 people of various nationalities were being held at the center when the fire broke out, including migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Ecuador and Colombia.
In recent years, tens of thousands of migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean have been stranded in Mexico as successive governments have pressured Mexico to block people from entering the United States.
Amarilys Ortiz, secretary-general of the Guatemalan-American Association, believes López Obrador doesn’t give a damn about immigrants because she says he hasn’t done enough to curb the drug and human trafficking cartels that prey on those fleeing poverty and violence home countries. In 2020, López Obrador admitted to ordering the release from a Mexican prison of Ovidio Guzmán, the son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the drug trafficker and boss of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.
“This should be achieved by the United Nations organization and the major organizations that defend human rights, because this becomes part of a criminal structure that defends the Mexican government,” Ortiz said, referring to Monday’s deadly blaze. “National and world leaders should be talking about what’s happening in Mexico.”
Although López Obrador initially said the detainees started the fires, Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Mario Búcaro blamed people smugglers, known as coyotes, for the chain of events that culminated in the deaths this week.
According to Rosa Posada, adviser to the Union of Emigrant Guatemalans in Los Angeles, the migrants’ deaths could have been avoided if economic and social conditions in the countries that displaced them had improved. The majority of Central and South Americans crossing Mexican territory leave loved ones behind and hope to find work in Mexico, the United States and Canada.
“People come looking for something to feed their children and family,” said the native of Escuintla, an industrial town in Guatemala focused on the sugar agribusiness. “It’s really sad that the governments seeing this are not worried, they are not paying attention to this situation. The truth is it is sad for the children left behind, the wives, parents and families.”
As the United States and Mexico have cracked down on immigration in recent years, Posada believes the cost and danger of leaving home has risen dramatically. She said the Mexican government must respect people’s right to migrate and take more responsibility to avoid situations that could lead to tragedies like the one in Ciudad Juarez.
“We protest vigorously because there are so many arbitrary acts against migrants [on Mexican soil]no matter where they are from,” said Leoncio Velásquez, President of United Hondurans of Los Angeles.
Velásquez, who is from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, said a protest would be held outside the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles at 4 p.m. Friday, followed by a procession to 7th Street and Alvarado Street in the MacArthur Park area. There, participants will light candles and hold a vigil in memory of the Ciudad Juárez fire victims.
“We will protest in front of the consulate to demand that the Mexican authorities respect the rights of migrants,” Velásquez said. “Mexico must respect everyone on the migration route.”
Meanwhile, officials from the various Central American consulates in Los Angeles have said they will provide assistance and information to each of their compatriots regarding the Ciudad Juarez tragedy.
“If there is a need or a family member shows up, we will put them in contact with the authorities in Guatemala through the consular protection area,” said José Arturo Rodríguez, Guatemalan Consul General in LA
Guatemalan migrants can call (213) 900-1098 and select option #2 for an emergency number. Hondurans living in the United States can reach their consulate’s call center at (470) 751-9077.
https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2023-03-30/l-a-activists-call-for-justice-in-condemning-the-deaths-of-38-immigrants-in-ciudad-juarez L.A. activists call for justice in death of Juárez immigrants