Father Alejandro Solalinde says witnesses told him that at least 80 people were abducted from a train by masked gunmen in Veracruz state.
The Rev. Alejandro Solalinde carries a candle and a cross during a march against gang violence in Mexico City in May. (Eduardo Verdugo, Associated Press)
By:Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times
A Roman Catholic priest who has long championed the cause of migrant workers on Monday denounced what he said was another mass kidnapping of undocumented Central Americans purportedly yanked from a train by masked gunmen in southern Mexico.
Father Alejandro Solalinde, who runs the Hermanos en el Camino shelter for migrants, said at least 80 people primarily from Guatemala and Honduras were apparently abducted Friday in Veracruz state. He based his claim on information from several members of the group who said they managed to escape.
If the report is true, this will be the latest in a string of cases in which armed gangs have intercepted illegal immigrants on their voyage across Mexico to the United States. The gangs often try to extort money from the immigrants' families or force them to work as drug mules or in other tasks.
Many of those abducted have ended up in mass graves; in the worst massacre of such migrants, 72 were slain execution-style last year in Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas.
The National Commission for Human Rights demanded Solalinde's assertions be investigated swiftly and that the missing immigrants rescued. The commission says it documented the kidnapping or disappearance of 11,333 immigrants in a six-month period last year and criticized the government for failing to improve safety conditions.
Solalinde told reporters that the witnesses said about 10 heavily armed men pulled the migrants from a train when it stopped at a desolate spot around midday. The gunmen seemed to especially target women and children, rounding them up first and forcing them into waiting trucks, he said.
"Some ran and escaped but the others didn't," Solalinde said. "And now we don't know what's happening to these poor people."
The group totaled up to 250 people, many of whom had been staying in Solalinde's shelter in Oaxaca state before the abduction, the priest said. He suspected the notorious Zetas criminal network to be responsible.
The federal attorney general's office said it would investigate the incident. President Felipe Calderon has repeatedly had to face the anger of Central American governments that complain their citizens are not being protected.
In an annual report on human trafficking released Monday, the U.S. State Department said Mexico "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so." It also noted reports that local authorities were often in cahoots with the gangs.
With fanfare, Mexico last month signed an immigration law meant to reduce the dangers and announced a purge of corrupt immigration officers.