Trafficking, Forced Prostitution Denounced in Chiapas

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While focus continues on the dangers to migrants traveling north in Mexico, a new phenomenon appeared in the south: forced prostitution of young migrant women. The culprits, however, may be part of the same Zetas organization that is perpetrating the atrocities in the north.

The outcry about the problem came from Patricia Villamil, the Honduran consul in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, who told Agence France Presse that women are trafficked from Honduras to be forced into sexual slavery in that state.

“They bring women lured from Honduras, preferably those younger than eighteen,” the consul said. “The majority are brought from San Pedro Sula [in northwest Honduras], but many are also from [the central departments of] Comayagua and Olancho.”

The consul says the victims come in groups of five or six and are distributed among several dozen bars in Chiapas. One victim told AFP that she was promised a job in a restaurant in Mexico. When she arrived, she was forced to prostitute herself without any pay.

Although her office has become flooded with cases of Honduran migrants who have been forced to work without pay against their will, Villamil says Mexican authorities have been slow to react. 

“I’m not going to shut up until they do their job,” she said.

Mexican authorities disagree with Villamil’s assessment. Enrique Mendez, the official prosecutor in charge of crimes against immigrants in Chiapas, says individual cases of extortion and forced prostitution are not widespread in the area.

“Yes, there are people trafficking, but not in an alarming manner,” Mendez told the AFP.

He added that many of the women come on their own and are not coerced.

The phenomenon of young Central American women being trafficked for sex is not new. As InSight reported, traffickers are luring women from increasingly more urban and middle-class backgrounds.  In some of these cases, the traffickers operate phony dance schools and talent agencies in order to disguise their illegitimate activities.

In the case of Chiapas, however, the victims appear to be more lower class and could be part of the pockets of migrants making their way north through that large border state.

This state is increasingly controlled by the vaunted Zetas criminal organization. The Zetas have sought to monopolize criminal activities such as human trafficking throughout the region. Their penchant for violence is renown. Authorities are still sifting through the bodies in dozens of mass graves northern Mexico following their discovery earlier this month.

In the past few years, authorities have attributed several cases of human trafficking to the Zetas, especially in the country’s south.  A June 2008 press briefing from the office of the Mexican Attorney General (Procuraduria General de la Republica – PGR), for instance, describes  how 37 undocumented migrants (33 Cubans, 3 Guatemalans and 1 Salvadoran) were “rescued” from an immigration detainment facility in Chiapas by a group of Zetas who  then extorted large sums of money from them in order to deliver them to the United States.

More recently, 40 migrants, most of whom were from El Salvador and Guatemala, were abducted by gunmen on December 16, while riding a freight train in southern state of Oaxaca. The incident was linked to the Zetas, who were blamed for conspiring to hold the migrants against their will until they received large ransom payments from each of their respective family members in the United States.

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