Searching for the missing in San Fernando
She constantly massaged her feet as she talked, badly blistered from several days of wandering the brush country of northern Tamaulipas and south Texas in her latest illegal crossing into the U.S.
She is an “expert” now, aware of all the nuances and the dangers and the importance of contracting with the right “Pollero”, or human trafficker. She explained what might go wrong during the journey to the border and the vital importance of paying “la Cuota”, or tax to the right Zeta operative to ensure that severe consequences would not be encountered.
Although the conversation took place earlier in the middle of March before the news of the abductions and murders of travelers on public bus lines broke, the rumors of horrible incidents befalling migrants traveling through Tamaulipas was already common knowledge. These dangers have always been part of the journey, she said, the deaths of those 72 Central Americans was nothing new.
“Tienes que andar lista, bien pilas o te lleva el corriente”- “You’ve got to really be heads up, or you’ll be swept away”
Although it is impossible to confirm her story, it may explain the motive for at least some of the murders in San Fernando, those of migrants that were taken off the buses and killed.
She is from the city of Guanajuato. She barely survives in the informal economy when at home, the dreams of landing a decent job with a bachelor’s degree in sociology long since abandoned. That is the reality for the poor in Mexico, and education rarely makes a difference.
She explained how human trafficking networks operate.
“You have to find a good, experienced ‘pollero’ (human trafficker) first of all, not the young unreliable punks starting out. The payment is collected in U.S currency once the pollito (client) is delivered to the agreed upon point after crossing the border, usually paid by a family member already residing in the U.S.”
“If they don’t deliver the pollito, they don’t get paid”
“First you have to pay a deposit of 4,000 pesos to the pollero. This money isn’t his but is used to pay the ‘cuota’ or tax charged by Los Zetas for safe passage of every migrant traveling through their territory.”
“There are Zetas in every “central de autobuses” or bus depots, definitely in the states of Guanajuato and Zacatecas. They are there to collect the tax from the polleros for all the clients that will be crossed into the U.S.”
“They also make note of all the migrants that don’t pay and the buses they are traveling on. Sometimes a young pollero will keep the deposit and not pay the Zeta or will promise that they can make the journey without paying. Or sometimes the migrants travel on their own to save on the costs.”
“After paying the cuota the pollero is given a comprobante, or receipt, that should ensure safe passage through Zeta territory and be honored by other Zeta cells and this usually works smoothly.”
“Your pollero has to have that comprobante if you are stopped by other Zetas, if not there may be severe consequences.”
“The Zeta receipt can also work against the pollero if he is stopped by a contra (rival) group. He might even be killed for paying the Zeta tax and the clients will be taken away.”
“This can happen if your crossing the border at Reynosa or Matamoros where the Gulf cartel is in control.”
“The pollero can pay a second cuota to the Gulf gangs but if the Zetas find out they may kill him.”
“The polleros are astute businesspeople and usually pay only one cuota. In our case we got off the bus about 10 miles from Reynosa and walked cross country in a wide arc around the city to avoid being kidnapped or killed by the Gulf people for not paying their cuota. We didn’t have a CDG comprobante”