GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (NewsNation Now) — While so much focus is on the Southern U.S. border and the process of entering this country for many migrants, the most dangerous and violent part of their journey from countries like Honduras and Guatemala happens in Mexico.
Everyday thousands of people made desperate attempts to enter the U.S. in search of a better life.
Juana, who asked NewsNation not to use her real name, wants to share her profound story of Guatemalan migration.
“Two hundred we have our little home here. (My husband) always said he wanted to make it prettier. Make it a better life here. That’s why he decided to leave,” Juana recalled.
At least 193 people, many of them migrants from Central America, were murdered in the 2011 San Fernando Massacre, also known as the second massacre of San Fernando. People were pulled off of buses, women raped, men forced to fight each other to the death — all at the hands of the Zetas drug cartel; the bodies were eventually discovered in 47 mass graves.
Juana’s husband was among the deceased. “I got the call eight days later. The coyote called me and told me he got kidnapped by the ‘Zetas’ in San Fernando Tamaulipas,” she said.
Her husband’s remains were found two years later, along a stretch of road known as the “Highway of Death.”
“They told me they could not give me his body; they could only give me his ashes,” Juana said.
Juana’s husband had come so close to making it, it all happened just 90 miles from the Brownsville, Texas border.
In her anguish, Juana sat with those ashes in the home they shared in Guatemala.
“I spread the ashes on a plastic bag then started to look for his teeth – he had gone with his golden teeth on. I couldn’t find anything,” Juana explained.
The story of migration is most often seen at international borders and in big cities, but it often begins in places like San Martin Jilotepeque, a town located 100 kilometers northwest of Guatemala City.
These are different places than the big cities, but they also have many of the same stories.
“Guatemala is a very complex country, in terms of migration, because it receives people but you have also people leaving from Guatemala, you have people returning to Guatemala,” said Salha Benzeghiba, head of mission for Guatemala, International Red Cross. “To migrate is not a game; we see very severe consequences.”
That vicious history repeated itself just this past January in the same Mexican state as the 2011 massacre, Tamaulipas. This time Mexican state police were implicated.
“16 Guatemalan citizens were victims, I would say, of this migratory route, and they were basically calcinated in a car or being shot dead,” Benzeghiba explained.
A NewsNation crew took a journey hours outside the Guatemalan capital in a Red Cross vehicle to see Juana and her family in San Martin; they learned how the randomness of their story still stings.
“Nobody notices when those people leave. You simply hear of the ones who made it and the ones who didn’t. After that massacre in Mexico, many migrants were able to make it through the same spot and you can just wonder, ‘Why him?'” Juana said.
After her husband’s murder in Mexico, Juana was left to raise their daughter on her own. But with no money for school and a bleak future, even her daughter wants to leave Guatemala to finish the journey her father started.
“I keep telling her to stay, but she is determined to leave. She says it’s been long ago since her dad died. But not for me,” Juana said.
Juana told NewsNation it would cost about $700 quetzals, which is equivalent to 100 American dollars, a month for her daughters to attend nursing school. They don’t have the money because they don’t have the work and that is apart of the problem creating this desperation.