Authorities have barred hundreds of migrants in Mexico from boarding the infamous cargo train “La Bestia” (the Beast) destined for the United States, though the measure is unlikely to stop them attempting the perilous journey and may leave them even more exposed to attacks by criminals.
The decision came after the state of Veracruz accused railway companies Kansas City Southern and Ferrosul of endangering migrants using the freight train network by making unscheduled stops that allowed criminals to board the train.
“What the train drivers and some directors of the railway companies have told us is that the decision to stop the migrants boarding the train is due to the reports filed against them [the companies] by the government of [the state of] Veracruz,” Ruben Figueroa, an activist with the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, told Animal Politico.
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Since the week of April 21, approximately 800 migrants have been unable to leave the southern municipalities of Tenosique (Tabasco) and Palenque (Chiapas), two major gathering spots for migrants hoping to hop on the train. Many of those stranded are Central American migrants — La Prensa reported hundreds of Hondurans are among their numbers.
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The journey on La Bestia brings with it a host of dangers, including lost limbs and death — one derailment in 2013 left up to 50 dead and 300 wounded. But the biggest fear among migrants is the threat posed by criminal organizations that extort and kidnap migrants, sometimes attacking them en masse. Up to 80 percent of migrants journeying north are assaulted or robbed, while 60 percent of female travelers are raped. According to a recent report from Animal Politico, migrants must pay an average of $100 each to criminal groups to ride the train.
The travails of the journey hit front pages in Mexico in early April when 15 people mutilated while travelling on the train addressed the Senate and demanded to speak to President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Yet preventing migrants using the train is unlikely to make the situation any better. An estimated flow of up to 500,000 migrants make the journey through Mexico to the United States every year, and they will simply be forced to use alternative routes already in existence.
Much of the attraction presented by La Bestia is the opportunity to travel a long distance in a relatively short time. Using alternative routes could expose them to longer and even more treacherous journeys, potentially making them even more vulnerable to organized crime.