In 2009, journalist Oscar Martinez embarked on one of the most dangerous pilgrimages on Earth. He joined migrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala on their desperate journey through Mexico to the U.S.

It’s a journey that more than 25,000 migrants make every year. The statistics are harrowing — Amnesty International estimates that 70,000 undocumented went missing in Mexico in the last six years.

At every step of the trip, Martinez wrote dispatches for ELFaro.Net. Now those dispatches are collected in the book, The Beast: Riding and Dodging Narcos On The Migrant Rail.

The migrants Martinez profiles are escaping violence and poverty. They flee their homes on the presumption that “there is something better in life, than the life that those people have in Central America,” says Martinez, “I think this is one of the greatest motors in the history of humanity.”

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A team of Spanish photographers joined Martinez as he documented the violence.

To make their way north, the Central American migrants cling to the roof of a colossal cargo train called The Beast, hiding in spaces between and underneath the cars.

The migrants who fall off are crushed. The survivors are perpetually victimized: they are robbed, beaten, raped and kidnapped by narcos.

“It’s a chess game, the road is a chess game,” says Martinez, “If you make a bad move, you can end up in the hands of the Zetas.”

For the people on this journey, there is no justice. Corrupt public officials work with the narcos. Gangs control the coyotes who lead the migrants north. The walls and increased security on the U.S. side of the border only make things worse.

Interview Highlights


On the abuses faced by migrants on the trail 

Martinez: This road leaves you a big trauma, a big scar in your brain. In 2009 64% percent of Central American women who crossed Uihtxla suffered some abuse including sexual harasment. What happens with that population? Who is asking them? Who is giving support to that people? They just come to the United States or are deported to Central American and continue with their lives, but what kind of life can you have after having that experience?

On the inclusion of los Zetas on the migrant trail

Martinez: In 2007 the incursion of los Zetas changed the sign of that immigration because those wolves are very cruel wolves and are wolves that make massive kidnapping, that sell a lot of women in the north and in the south brothels. Of course, the incursion of the Zetas with the participation of some authorities, mainly the local authorities, the municipal police or the state police. That inclusion changed the name of the wolf, and the name of the wolf is los Zetas.

On the lack of repercussions for criminals

Martinez:  The work of the journalist, puts light in the dark corner of societies, makes it more difficult for the corrupt, for the hagaranes, for the estados perezosos y gobiernos perecosos, as the Salvadorian, Guatemalan and Honduran governments who never raise their voice to ask Mexico what happened with all their women who have been raped in Mexico, what happened with all their men, child and ancients who are kidnapped by los Zetas for days? Journalism is like the sea when it erodes a stone, it takes years and it is not the rhythm we’d prefer, but it is the rhythm we have.



On what he wants his readers to feel

Martinez: I hope to provoke anger. I think that anger is our most powerful motor, it is very difficult to go and sleep with anger. I don’t know what an engineer can do about the topic, I don’t know what an architect can do reading the book, but I pretend to generate the feeling that prevents that person from staying still.






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