12/07/14 (written by otawka) — In late November, two human rights activists from Honduras were killed in Tequixquiac in the State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex) for their work in assisting migrants through Mexico. On Sunday, November 21, Adrián Rodríguez and Wilson (whose last name has been withheld for the safety of his family) were shot at by several men who were waiting for them outside of Rodríguez’s home. Rodríguez was shot three times and died immediately; fellow activist Wilson was shot five times and died the following morning.
The two were participants in the group Colectivo Ustedes Somos Nosotros (Collective You All Are Us) that works to provide support and resources to migrants who ride the infamous train known as La Bestia north from the southern tip of Mexico to the U.S-Mexico border. Local volunteers created this group after closing their migrant shelters and soup kitchens due to threats made by organized crime and the hostility they received from locals and city authorities for their aid to the migrants. During a press conference held by Colectivo Ustededs Somos Nosotros following Rodríguez’s and Wilson’s deaths, fellow group members Jorge Andrade and Andrea González stated that four other “migrant protectors” within their group were killed before Rodríguez and Wilson, and that other members have taken their colleagues’ case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).
The deaths of the two were preceded by an attack earlier in the year when members from the notorious El Salvaldor gang Mara Salvatrucha attempted to rob a group of migrants. The migrants fought back, and eventually led to the capture of one of the “maras” involved, who was later released by the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público). However, as advocates for the migrants, Rodríguez and Wilson were called in to testify on the case in February 2014 before the Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (Subprocuraduría de Investigación Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada, SIEDO) and the State Commission of Human Rights in the State of Mexico (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos del Estado de México, CEDHEM). Since then, the two received written threats that jeopardized their safety. There is often backlash in Mexico against those who denounce crime and violence by members of organized crime that retaliate against such individuals, becoming targets of retribution violence themselves.
Jorge Andrade also argued that the state and federal authorities were to blame for the activists’ deaths because they had not investigated the organized crime groups that had continuously threatened members of the collective. Luis Tapia Olivares, a human rights attorney at Centro de Derechos Humanos Agustín Pro Juárez (Centro PRODH), specifically named the National Institute of Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM), federal and state prosecutors, and local authorities for not acting with “consciousness” within the context of the situation. Tequixquiac, where Rodríguez and Wilson were killed, is not far from La Lechería, just outside of Mexico City, which is the juncture where the train north splits off to different routes and is known as being a particularly bad point on the migrant path for gang activity and organized crime.
Before his death, Wilson had just recently received a humanitarian visa to live in Mexico for his cooperation with authorities and his testimony about the attack made earlier this year. Wilson, himself once a migrant riding La Bestia, decided not to finish his journey to the United States, and to instead stay and help migrants in need along the train’s path. For his part, Rodríguez was featured in a Los Angeles Times article earlier this year for his more than ten years worth of work assisting the migrants, which included the use of his daily resources to make daily trips to the train tracks to the feed the passengers. In the article, he was quoted as saying, “Sometimes I’m sad to see the train go and never know the fate of those aboard.”
In Latin America, Mexico has the second highest number of attacks against human rights defenders, including those like Rodríguez and Wilson who work in support of the migrants. Even more focused, of all attacks against human rights defenders in Mexico, those that defend migrant rights are the most targeted population. Volunteers at migrant shelters and those that distribute food and medical aid to migrants along migrant routes are often targeted by the same criminal organizations that extort, kidnap, attack, and kill migrants. Father Pedro Pantoja, the director of migrant shelter Casa del Migrante Belén in Saltillo, Coahuila, spoke at the Colectivo Ustededs Somos Nosotros press conference about the activists’ deaths, adding that there are currently 66 migrant shelters in Mexico receiving threats from such organized crime groups.