Two Men's Efforts To Help Migrants In Mexico End In Their Murders
This is the story of the murder of two aid workers in Mexico. The men fed Central American migrants traveling north through Mexico on a freight train that stopped near their home.
They were critical of both corrupt police, who abused and extorted the migrants, as well as the organized crime gangs that kidnapped and robbed them.
It wasn't hard to find the two men — they were never far from the train tracks — but there were no witnesses to their deaths, and police won't comment about the case. The double homicide didn't even get a mention in the local press.
I met the men on several occasions this summer while reporting on the surge of Central Americans, especially unaccompanied minors, who were making the long journey to the United States.
'We Are All Human Beings'
Last June, I walked the rock-filled tracks with Adrian Rodriguez Garcia. It was quite a hike from his house to where migrants would gather and wait for his meals.
Everyone called him "La Polla." He was the "mother hen" to thousands of migrants, mostly from Central America, who knew that when they got off the train near the central Mexican town of Huehuetoca, La Polla would be there with hot coffee and sweet bread in the morning, or a hot meal in the afternoon — rain or shine.
"I like helping people," he said.
Garcia said he started feeding the migrants near the town, about 35 miles north of Mexico City, about 10 years ago.
"I see how they suffer, how destroyed their feet are from walking such long distances, how they are always targeted by corrupt cops of crime gangs," he said.
He just wanted to make this small leg of their journey a little lighter.
After all, Garcia said, "We are all human beings, the only thing different about us is that we come from different countries."
Garcia dyed his long hair a light red color and pulled it back with a bright head band. He liked to paint his nails and wear sparkling rings. He told me he was a transvestite, and maybe that's why he related so much to the cast-aside migrants; he, too, felt he was an outsider.
Two years ago, a Honduran named Wilson Castro jumped off the train at Huehuetoca and decided to stay.
"I'm also a migrant," said Castro. "I know how much they suffer along the trip north — some die falling off the train or lose limbs, I've seen it all."
Castro was the quieter side to Garcia's flamboyance, but equally committed.
Handouts And Hard Work
The two didn't have a lot to hand out. One day when I was out at the tracks with them, Garcia lined up a group of about 20 migrants and passed out hot tortillas, beans, a slice of cheese and a few jokes.
He had an easy, loud laugh, but clearly there was a serious side to the work.
For one story I was working on about abuse in Mexico's migrant detention facilities, Castro told me about being held for two months in an overcrowded cell, where gang members robbed and extorted the migrants.
Earlier this year, both men thwarted an attempt to kidnap migrants at the train tracks. Castro held one of the suspected kidnappers while Garcia called the police.
Both gave statements to the authorities, and both received death threats, but according to human rights workers Garcia and Castro had been promised police protection.
None was provided, says Jorge Andrade, a human rights worker.
Last Sunday, after they handed out the evening meal, Andrade says the pair drove back to their house. They still were sitting in the car outside, talking, when members of Garcia's family who were in the house heard the shots.
Garcia died instantly from a shot to the head and heart. Castro, shot in the heart and lungs, died a day later. Police are not commenting.
At a press conference Wednesday, aid worker Andrea Gonzalez said authorities long had been aware of the criminal gangs operating in the region and the threats to the men, yet did nothing.
"We can no longer permit this type of violence and impunity to permeate our society," she said.
Castro's body is being sent home to his family in Honduras. Garcia was buried Tuesday in the small cemetery in town not far from his house — not far from the train tracks.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.